210: Round and Round we go – Small Hydro Power


Matt and Sean talk about small hydro turbines and where they might make the most sense. Should we give a dam?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, The Genius of Small Hydro Turbines https://youtu.be/KEsrAmM07fs?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to talk about small scale hydroelectricity production. Hey everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell here on Still to be Determined to talk about Matt Ferrell, my brothers. Most recent episode, which was about small scale electric production using micro hydro.

Before we get into that, just a reminder of who we are. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, including this I just received in the mail the other day. This is my advanced copy of my newest book. The Sinister Secrets of the Fabulous Nothings. If anybody’s interested in supporting me, I believe the pre orders may actually be available already for this.

It is a great way to support an author. It really does help. It’s ridiculous how much it helps. Advance, advance orders. Ahead of Pub. This will come out in June. If a bunch of you order the book now, it will actually, the industry looks at that as more sales than if you bought the book after it came out.

It’s really That makes no sense. It, yeah, it has to do with Uh, like market research and what they think it means as far as how big it can scale and blah, blah, blah, and how much they push it and blah, blah, blah. So it’s like, please buy my book . The long and short of is please buy my book . So that’s who I am.

I’m that guy who writes those books. And with me as always is my brother, who is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. Matt, how are you doing today? I’m doing great. It’s been

a good week. I was on vacation a while back and now I feel like I’m back in the swing of things.

So it’s been a pretty good week. How about you?

It feels like spring is like a fingernail away, which I am very pleased about because the New York Times actually had an article today in their weekend newsletter, which was Like, spring’s right here, it’s around the corner. And for those of you who have been, through sheer force of will, having to struggle to get there, it can’t come too soon.

And I found myself nodding along like, yes, that is exactly where I am. I’ve been fine, big picture, but there’s been this I just want it to be warmer. I don’t want to wear this coat anymore. Why is everybody on the train so crowded? Like I want us all to be able to have a little bit of room, a little space and breathe.

So yeah, that’s where I am before we talk about Matt’s most recent episode. We always like to go back to the mailbag and see what you all have been leaving in the comments on our previous episodes. And from our previous episode 209, which was our discussion about heat pumps that Matt did basically a review of the heat pump technology that he has in his home and talked about it as a technology across the board for homeowners.

We’ve had a number of conversations now, a number of episodes of this podcast where for better or worse, we keep bringing up the Hindenburg, which led to this, which led to this comment from Sage T Master who wrote on the Hindenburg. What a wild inside joke for our community to have. I will always think of that when the Hindenburg gets brought up now, and like Matt, every time it was mentioned in this video, I will have to stifle laughter.

Yep. We are inadvertently creating a pocket community that anytime the disaster of the Hindenburg will be mentioned, we will stand in the background and

go, Teehee!

Oh dear. There’s also this comment, which was more on topic regarding heat pumps. This is from JMD and JM wrote in to say, I live in Idaho and I have a Rheem 60 gallon heat pump installed in my garage. It works great. I only use it in heat pump mode. I don’t use it on energy saver mode because I am off grid.

Also I do not turn it on during the night and it only runs during sunlight hours, which I think is an interesting aspect of this. Yeah. Your video, if I remember correctly, is largely like, here’s how it would operate in your home, and here’s how much you could expect to get out of it, and here’s how much you’d expect to go into it.

Yeah. And I don’t recall you saying like, and there are options like, turn it off over night and like you really could cut your energy use of that dramatically. So you want to talk about that? I alluded to that

at the end of the video when I was going through the graphs of like It’s actually costing me slightly more to run this thing here in Massachusetts because electricity prices are so high.

But I said, but I expect that to change over time as I continue to experiment with the settings. And that’s exactly what I was getting at. Um, since I made that video, I’ve already been doing experiments, like changing the settings every week and then looking at the data to see what’s happening. And it’s been driving my wife, Sue, nuts because The water’s not quite as hot as it was.

I don’t like this. I like it hotter. It’s like, okay, I’ll put it back and I change the setting again. She likes it really hot. Uh, but I’ve been using the scheduling feature, which I just started last week, where it’s like, I’ve put it into heat pump only mode. I’m not doing the eco anymore. And then it’s got like, it will get to the proper temp.

By the morning time, where we’d be taking a shower, and then later in the day, it goes back into this kind of lower temp, just kind of idle along. And I’m going to wait and see how that works. So I’m trying to dial this in and experiment over time to see how I can actually manipulate this to get the best energy efficiency and cost for myself based on how we use hot water in the house.

It’s just me and my wife. So it’s like, we take showers in the morning, That’s really it. So it’s like, yeah, if she likes a hot shower, just make sure it’s super hot in the morning and the rest of the day it could be a little lower and doing dishes, you don’t need scalding hot water, burning your hands as you’re doing dishes.

So it’s like. That’s kind of what I alluded to. And that comment is spot on. It’s like, I’m expecting to end up with something just like that, that basically overnight, it’s basically do nothing. And then it’s just kind of like heating up during the day. Um, I’m curious to see if that’s actually going to save money and electricity or not.

I’m reminded, as you talked about your wife’s experience with like, this water isn’t hot enough when our water heater in this apartment needed to be replaced. And our landlord showed up on weekend and said, good news. I’m giving you a new water heater. The next day I went to take a shower and there was no hot water whatsoever.

So I called the landlord and the landlord was like, Hmm, that’s weird. Let me go check. It turned out he had forgotten to turn it on. So he turned it on, he turned it on. And then the next time I went to take a shower or wash the dishes, I was constantly like, this feels like it’s on some kind of energy saver mode because this water is barely warm.

It’s not really doing. The heating that I would like. So I contacted him once again, Hey, is there something you’ve done on this? Because it doesn’t seem to be getting as hot as it used to. Oh, let me go check it. Oh, it turns out we have it in energy saver mode. Let me turn that off. So it turns off the energy saver mode.

Now we have hot water. It’s still though is not hot, hot. So it’s like, you can tell you’ve got hot water, but you can basically turn the shower on to full hot and still be comfortable in it. And I’m like, okay, this isn’t hot enough. I’m doing dishes. Things didn’t feel like they were getting clean enough.

Call them once again. Hey. Is there any way the hot water could be turned up to the temperature it was previously? Okay, let me go check. You can now weld with the hot water that comes out of our spouts.

If you were in an emergency situation where there was a fire and you used our hot water to try and fight the fire, you would feed the fire. It comes out. As hot molten magma and it is steam coming up, it is, it is intensely hot and washing dishes is an exercise. (Sean Noises)

You can mix cold water into it, Sean. It

is so hot that it is actually tricky with our. faucet to get to dial it into a comfortable level. I have just learned not to register the heat, so I’m fine. Yeah. That kind of experience. I am on team Sue in this case. There was also this comment from Siebert who said my heat pump switches between house heating and water heating so I can pull all the energy from outside.

I live in a cold climate, Austria. And the heat pump can heat above 70 degrees Celsius 1 58 Fahrenheit with even COP three to four COP is an efficiency rating number. So my understanding is that the higher the number, the more efficient . So a COP of three or four ratio? Yeah, three or four is probably on the lower end.

Am I correct? That’s actually really good. Uh, it’s

coefficient of performance. If it was a COP of one, that’s one unit of energy and one unit of energy out. So if it’s a three or four, that’s three or 400%. More efficient. And that’s really good at that temperature range.

That’s excellent. Siebert continues to say with us as a family using up to 18 kilowatt hours of warm water per day.

That is a lot of energy. If I pulled it from the house instead of the outside, that is the energy consumed by my Tesla to drive 62 miles. Sure. On the electricity side, it is way less. Then the COP, but anyway, I would pump heat only in a series from one pump to the next if there was no other choice. So some positive heat pump experiences, not only from you, but from a lot of your viewers and listeners.

There was Yeah. Go ahead. Do you have another comment on the heat pumps? I have one more comment, just a more general comment. So, okay. Cause

I was going to say on the heat pump note, I just visited a company here in Massachusetts that makes a cascading heat pump system that kind of blew my mind with how efficient it is and how wide of range temperatures it can handle and what it can do.

Um, I’m going to be making a video about it. So I would just say to people, stay tuned because there’s more to come. More heat pump goodness coming.

Last, I wanted to share this comment from Mike Realty, who writes in to say, sadly, here in central Connecticut, if you’re on grid, you are not allowed to go off grid.

So there is an aspect of all of these conversations that Matt. And I are having regarding power usage, what you’re allowed to do, what you can do. There are areas like Mike is living in where you just don’t have a choice. And that then comes back to advocate for yourself, look into options and figure out how to begin the process.

And we will talk about this again later in this very episode, because there’s a similar comment I saw later. Um, For our follow up conversation on Matt’s most recent video, in which it does point to the need for people to advocate for themselves and try to get policies and regulations changed for their betterment.

We’ll talk about that in a bit. On now to Matt’s most recent episode, The Genius of Small Hydro Turbines. This episode released on March 12th, 2024. And before we get into the meatier comments, Let’s talk about the puns. Yes, the puns. Hi Fi Guy wrote in to say, as an old dad, I appreciate the puns. And Hi Fi Guy, with a name like Hi Fi Guy, you are an old dad.

This from John P. And this was a moment in the video that I actually, when I was watching it on YouTube, I marked it in the video and then I sent it to my partner with the comment, TLC in Matt’s most recent video. And after she watched it, her immediate response was, Does Matt even know what he is saying?

And I said, I’m pretty sure Matt is familiar with the work of TLC. Yes, but this was from John P who dropped into the comments to say at three minutes and 54 seconds, T Boz, LeftEye, and Chilly, TLC reference for the younger than 35 crowd. It was nice of him to drop in and give, drop that wisdom for everybody.

And then there was finally this from, and I love this username, CustomerService2902. Who jumped into the comments to say, I literally spit my empanada out when you made that chasing waterfalls joke.

So I just got to say for the puns in this one, it was, these videos are a team effort. It’s not just me. I have researchers and writers that help me.

I have science advisors and this one was like a team effort, like none other. This, this episode just. cried out So, um, there’s so many opportunities for just bad puns. So some of them were mine, some of them were somebody from the science team, some of them were the writer that helped pull it together. Um, like the chase in waterfalls, that’s, that’s Vincent, the writer that worked on this one.

Um, hats off to Vincent for the TLC reference. Um, I was dying when he Put that one in the script. I was just like, that’s

chef’s kiss. Your delivery though is magical because you did it without missing a beat and it was just totally flat. So somebody sitting at home who is not familiar at all with chasing waterfalls is going to be like the rivers and lakes they’re used to.

Hmm. What a weird way to frame it. And everybody else is going to be going empanada. Yeah. Onto the topic of the video itself, which is not about puns, but about water turbines. There was this from Linda Grace. So basically, anywhere there has been a waterwheel driven mill historically, we could put in a small eco friendly hydro.

Sounds like a great idea to me. I do not believe that we will ever find a silver bullet that will solve all our energy needs with a single system. I think it is much more likely that we continue to expand our options. Rooftop blades, rooftop bladeless wind turbines, microhydro, more efficient solar panels that are manufactured with fewer rare elements, etc.

Linda, it’s as if you’ve been watching Matt’s videos and listening to this podcast for a while. These are the thing, this is the nail you keep hammering, Matt, which is stop looking for one tool to fit every job. Figure out what is needed, figure out what can meet that need, and then work to make it work.

Achieve the goal. It’s not one size fits all. I

mean, this, this, this specific topic, the reason I went down to this specific topic was I, whenever I’ve talked about like hydro or wind, people are always like, well, what about for homes? Like, what about wind turbines for homes? So I did videos about that and people have been saying, well, what about hydro for homes?

It’d be great if there was something out there. And I was like, well, there kind of is like a potentially, like if you lived on a large river or a stream, your house is butted up against to it. Maybe there’s something that you could do. And so that’s why we went down this topic. It’s It’s always interesting to see like all the different solutions that you can do that can tackle different aspects.

Um, so the, no offense to all the people that leave these comments, but I’m going to call you out. The people that are like, just go nuclear, just go blank. It’s like, please stop. Just stop. It’s, it’s, it’s not just go nuclear. It’s let’s go nuclear. Let’s go solar. Let’s go, let’s go all of above because we’re going to need it all.

And it can fit different needs

depending on where you are. In your video, you talk about the devastating environmental and human rights impact of the dam that was built in South America. And I think that the argument of just go blank fits within that as a good example. Just go blank can have such large scale ramifications.

Just go nuclear. Going nuclear in the Amazon basin is not Is that really the best case scenario there when you have technology being developed, which is having a far lower environmental impact? And footprint that you can drop in where it’s needed. Building a nuclear power plant in some place like Brazil puts into place all sorts of concerns around not only security, environmental impact.

But is it in the right place to reach all the right people? It is an enormous environment. It is an enormous country. So to say, Oh, we’ve got the silver bullet over here. It’s not like putting in a single power plant near a city you’re talking about. These are in some cases, massive geography with clusters of people throughout.

in an environment where it would be difficult to have the scale of a new dam or solar panel farms or whatever it is, a nuclear power plant or any of these other older examples. It’s just not that simple. And on top of that, I imagine, and you can talk about this, what is the cost efficiency behind these smaller scale.

Designed versus the large scale.

Oh man, John, that’s a can of worms. That’s Okay, there’s, that’s To tease that apart at a high level, it’s hard to say one’s better than the other. Depends on the situation. But like, if you’re talking about smaller, like disparate pockets of smaller cities or pockets of towns and stuff like that, doing more of a micro grid approach is probably going to be way, it’s gonna be faster and it’s probably gonna be cheaper.

Um, if you’re talking about large metropolitan areas. Then large scale production is probably going to end up being more power for the dollar. I guess this is the way you would say it. So it really is like that way we just talked about the right tool for the right job. So like if you’re trying to power New York City, you’re not going to put tens of thousands of these little micro things all over the place.

Place over the Hudson River, you’re gonna try to build one thing that can kind of power everybody. Um, so like a nuclear power plant outside of a New York City area makes a hell of a lot more sense than a thousand little micro hydro turbines. Right. But, uh, for a place where you’re talking about like, this town has a few thousand people and then this, this city is like, you know.

50, 000 people and then, and they’re kind of separate. It’s like you could build out smaller little pockets of these micro grids that can satisfy the needs for that little area. And then if there’s overages, they can share between each other. So it’s like that kind of approach could be more faster and cheaper to do.

So it really depends on the situation, which one’s

more cost effective. I would also say that there are certain, uh, specific, uh, environments where even in a large scale city like New York or any major much metropolitan area having a small scale micro grid as a backup for emergency situations at hospitals, airports, like those could be critical given a moment where the power goes down because of some massive Critical failure.

And you have the ability for a hospital to still operate semi normally because of maybe a few turbines that are, you mentioned, like, you’re not going to put turbines everywhere in the Hudson River, but if there’s a hospital that’s right next to the river, maybe a couple of turbines in the river are a good option.

So, yep, exactly. Again, find the right tool for the right job. There was also this comment from going to heck. The first Genius one with the ball. She’s referring, of course, to the mini hydro, the mini hydro design, which was the pendulum swinging along the center so that it looks like the, uh, never ending toilet flush.

in which the ball just will not go down going to heck says it looks like an incredible fish squisher so i know the environmental impact and that would include life impact on on organisms in these environments you talk about that in your video and i’m curious is So, that’s the one with the swirling pendulum.

One that would fall into the category from my mind, I thought, fish would just kind of like swirl around that and go down the hole. Even if that pendulum does kind of hit them, it’s probably not going to like crush them. But it’s not a mortar and pestle in there.

It’s, it’s,

it’s not like anchovy paste.

It’s just like coming out the other end. It’s just like people with baskets of pasta waiting for it to land in it. So here’s the thing

about that. Um, I brought it up in the video, but my friend Ryan, who runs the channel Xeroth, he’s an engineer getting his PhD. Um, he did a deep dive on that exact technology in the video.

He kind of alluded to the fact that this would be better for fish, but in our research digging into it, there is no evidence of that. Um, in fact, in the company’s own, uh marketing materials and spec sheets and patents and stuff. We found almost the exact opposite where they basically said there’s no, there’s been no studies into that this is safer or worse or anything for fish.

And what they recommend in these systems is that you’re putting like, not netting, but you’re putting up like, uh, you know, metal grids

and screens. Yeah. To filter things out. Yeah.

Right. Because you don’t want, you don’t want to damage the machine. And two, you want to keep those things from getting in there in the first place, which would be good for fish.

So they were talking about that. You’d want to be doing that. With this kind of a system, no matter what. Um, so I would say there needs to be studies to really officially say it’s better or worse. But yeah, it seems to me like a fish, a small fish would just go whoop right through it. It doesn’t

seem to be crushed.

It also seemed like there’s the size of the fish and then there’s the number of fish. And it seemed like the way some of these design work is to, you take a river and you divert a portion of the water so that it moves off. at a similar slant to that spot. And then at a point where the river is now lower, you reintroduce that water at that later point.

So the place to put your barricade to filter out the fish would be at that diversion point, not near the machine. You wouldn’t want there to be any fish effectively by that point. Um, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s just Human instinct to look at something that is a big rolling ball and say, well, that’s gotta be safer than a bunch of rotating blades, right?

Is it just us with a knee jerk response of like, I wouldn’t put my hand in a fan, but I’d reach in to grab a basketball and a hoop. That’s no big deal.

Caitlin jumped in to say, my dad lives near a similar diversion based small hydro. He says that you wouldn’t even know it was there unless you went off the footpath looking for the awning. Apparently, it’s amazingly quiet. I thought that was a really neat aspect of this as well. Living near a dam or, you know, people complain about wind turbines making noise, the idea that something as calm as a bubbling brook or a river in the background Might not feel all that different from the way it does naturally is a bonus, I think, to this technology.

It’s a huge bonus. Yeah, definitely. Finally, there’s this, which goes back to the comment I made earlier about if you want to see change in the world, figure out how to be the change and advocate for yourself and figure out who to contact regarding policies and regulations that have a negative impact on your life and your choices.

This comment from the Kanjikat who wrote in to say, I remember reading an article about a small town in the eastern U. S. that wanted to convert a tailrace from an old mill into a small hydroelectric generator capable of supplying all the electricity needs of the town. The infrastructure was all mostly in place and the dam had been there about a century, so it should have been an easy job.

Enter the government. It took them about a decade to get through all the red tape, injunctions, and studies to basically drop a turbine into an already existing structure. The biggest obstacle of doing anything decentralized is usualize, is usually the centralized power resisting it. This is, I think, a good case of two, you know, we talk from a U.

S. context. I think that the unspoken in most of our conversations is Matt and I, without meaning to, infusing a lot of US centric thinking into how to make change. But this is something that across the board, globally, it is difficult under the best of circumstances to get people with power to listen to you so that you can make the choices you want to.

But that doesn’t mean that if you have the opportunity, you shouldn’t try. And this is the kind of 21st century opportunity to redirect some old 20th or even 19th century structures that may be in place and holding back your options. There are going to be forces at work against changes like this.

Centralized utilities, centralized governments, the idea that a new technology that may have answers will destabilize the. Old guard is going to meet resistance, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. So I encourage people to not only figure out how to advocate for themselves around topics like this, that they think will have a positive impact on their lives.

If you’re having that kind of experience, let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you. And I think it would be an interesting topic for Matt and his team to follow up on in looking at what are some of the policy obstacles that stand in the way, not just the technological out there.

Obstacles. So we look forward to seeing your comments. Don’t forget what? Yes.

Jump off. There is one thing I do need to bring up in this video. There was a mistake that a lot of people pointed out within hours of this video going live. I just have to apologize for there was a section where we were talking about the Itaipu dam and.

the amount of pressure and we were trying to make it relatable to like wrap your head around and so it’s the same amount of pressure as you know this and it’s it would be like 500, 000 or 500 million times more powerful than the average U. S. faucet well our math on that was correct In our script work, my science advisor crunched those numbers for us.

His calculations, perfect. Nothing wrong with his calculations. Where things broke down was when we took that calculation and we wrote it into the script, we didn’t just like copy and paste the calculation number. We translated it into like words. So it was, Oh, it’s, Half a million times more power and pressure.

It was actually half a billion. And so we switched billion into million in the words. And then when we were proofreading all this stuff, we just completely slipped over just double checking to make sure that word matched the actual calculation and it got through. And so it was in the video and I was like, ah, facepalm, like the stupid, this, the stupidest, stupidest thing that should have been caught.

And so it’s like, I just wanted to apologize for that. We put a correction in the video, so a little card slides out and says there’s a correction and you click it and it tells you what it actually is. I just want to apologize for that. That should have been caught, but wasn’t. Buck stops with me.

Well, I don’t know if I speak for all of your listeners, Matt, but I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive you.

Yeah, I know. So as always, I invite people to jump into the comments. Let us know what you think. You can also subscribe, leave a review, and don’t forget to tell your friends. Those are three easy and free ways for you to support our channel. And if you’d like to more directly support us. You can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to stilltbd.

fm and click the become a supporter button. It allows you to throw some coins at our heads. We appreciate the welts and then we get down to the business of talking about TLC. Thank you everybody for taking time to visit with us today and we’ll look forward to talking to you next time.

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