Hydroelectric power has a long history in Montana, and in fact hydroelectric dams currently account for one-third of Montana’s total electric power generation, second only to coal-fired power plants. Though most of the potential large-scale hydro sites in Montana have been developed, there is still much potential for small hydropower systems. Moreover, small hydro projects are free of the significant environmental impacts of large dams, since they do not require flooding large areas of land to create reservoirs. Technically, small-scale hydro systems are between 100 kW and 10 MW, and micro-hydro systems are smaller than 100 kW.
Components of a micro-hydro system include an intake structure to screen out debris; a pipe or canal to transport water from the intake to the turbine; and the turbine and generator, which convert the flow of water to electricity. Like other renewable energy systems, micro-hydro systems can be grid-tied or off-grid.
If you’re interested in developing a micro-hydro system, you’ll first need to determine the water rights and laws surrounding the water source. From there you can determine the flow rate of the river or stream and the “head,” or vertical drop from the intake to the turbine. These last two factors will determine the power output of your system.
To find a contractor that works on small hydro system, check our our Directory of Montana Renewable Energy Dealers/Installers.
For more information about small hydropower systems, see the following resources:
- Microhydro Electricity Basics from Homepower Magazine
- Montana Green Power Hydropower Page
- Montana State University Extension E3A Micro-hydro Fact Sheets
Biomass energy is energy from plant materials. It is a very broad category, encompassing direct heat sources (e.g. wood stoves), electricity generation, and biofuels for transportation (e.g. ethanol and biodiesel). Biomass feedstocks are also varied, and include the following:
- Forest residues
- Mill residues
- Crop residues
- Energy crops
- Animal waste
- Municipal waste
- Landfill gas
For example, biodiesel made from used cooking oil or other plant-based oils can be used in standard diesel engines, thus replacing an imported fossil fuel with a clean, locally produced energy source. Want to buy biodiesel? A list of biodiesel retailers in Montana is available from the Department of Environmental Quality.
For more information about biomass energy, see the following resources:
- Montana Green Power Biofuels Page
- Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Biomass Energy Program
US Department of Energy’s Biomass Program
- Montana State University Extension E3A Anaerobic Digesters Fact Sheets
- Montana State University Extension E3A Biodiesel Fact Sheets
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal Heat Pumps, also called Ground-Source Heat Pumps, take advantage of the fact that the earth, just a few feet below the surface, maintains a much more constant year-round temperature than the air. It can therefore be used to provide a heat source in the winter and a heat sink in the summer. Geothermal heat pumps work by circulating a fluid underground through long loops of pipe. The heat pump itself is located indoors and uses a basic refrigeration cycle (evaporation, compression, condensation, and expansion) to transfer heat from the ground to the house in the winter, and from the house to the ground in the summer.
The cost of a geothermal heat pump system will depend on your home’s energy use, lot size, and soil conditions. The best way to reduce the cost of your geothermal heat pump system is to reduce your energy consumption first, so that a smaller system will meet your needs. Check out our conservation resources for more information. In addition, federal tax credits and state tax credits are available to reduce the cost of your geothermal heat pump system.
For more information on geothermal heat pumps, see the following resources: