Credit: Lucid Energy
One of my favorite things about renewable energy is that it can come from some truly creative places. Taking advantage of infrastructure already in place, Lucid Energy (of Portland, Oregon) has designed a hydropower turbine that generates electricity from water moving through City drinking water pipes. The system is designed to use the power of gravity as water flows through the pipes; the water’s movement turns the turbines, and the turbines power a generator resting on top of the pipes. Specifically, the turbines replace the role of a pressure relief valve in a gravity-fed water system by converting excess pressure in the pipes into electricity. (The systems work best in cities with mountains that use these gravity-fed systems.)
What are the major benefits of the system?
- They don’t require any fossil fuels, so the systems are zero-emission.
- They don’t disrupt hydrological ecosystems like dams would.
- They make use of water that is already being tapped (pun intended), so it doesn’t require diverting new water resources (which is a major concern in drought-ridden areas of the country).
- They run constantly, providing consistent and predictable amounts of electricity (which is a common complaint with solar and wind generation).
How cool is that idea?! One issue I constantly hear about transitioning to renewable energy (and that I completely understand) is that it will require building new infrastructure, and building new infrastructure is expensive. But, this technology takes advantage of a system that’s already in place — no additional investment necessary. I love the ingenuity of extracting new value from existing resources.
Government officials from countries around the world are already expressing interest in the technology. The Mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa – Parks Tau – has said the system could provide much-needed electricity during times of peak demand, since they ordinarily have to shut off power to residents when they don’t have enough electricity available (that makes me feel very fortunate to have a generally reliable electric grid here in the States). Mayor Tau also said the technology is cost competitive in their country, which currently has energy supply issues.
A small sample project has already been installed in Portland and is powering 150 homes. But, the director of Portland’s Water Bureau says there aren’t plans to install more pipes in the city because the ROI would only be about 1% (due to high installation costs relative to very low energy prices here in the United States). In my opinion, if you have a cost-neutral option that will reduce environmental impact, why not do it? It seems like the right choice to me, especially if it isn’t going to cost anything extra. Plus, given the recent issuance of the Clean Power Plan, carbon emissions will soon be given a cost (whether implicit or explicit), and this system’s ability to produce zero-emission electricity might just tip the scales on this investment to give it a strongly positive ROI.