Go With the Flow: Clean Energy From City Water Pipes Revolutionizes Hydroelectric Power

Go With the Flow Clean Energy From City Water Pipes Revolutionizes Hydroelectric Power

By Carolanne Wright

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

A company in Portland, Oregon has harnessed a near perfect source of energy: the constant flow of running water found in city pipes. 

Not many of us are willing to give up our creature comforts — regardless of how ecologically oriented we may be. Sure, we’ll recycle, reduce energy consumption whenever possible and support sustainable agriculture, but when it comes down to powering our computer, gadgets and other necessities, we’ll choose conventionally produced electricity over nothing at all. Even with sustainable options, there’s usually a catch since nothing is perfect. And yet, a clean and green technology is available today that can dramatically transform the way we power our lives.

The Energy Blues

Most conventional power production is rife with environmental consequences. Coal-fired plants spew heavy metals, radio isotopes, sulfur dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter into the air — leading to acid rain, smog and a toxic environment, which cause numerous respiratory, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular issues. The mining and burning of coal contributes not only to massive air pollution, but also affects our waterways and drinking water.

Nuclear is considered a more damaging option due to the exceptionally toxic nature of radioactive waste. Military and civilian nuclear power facilities are prone to accidents, and have leaked mutagenic isotopes for over 60 years into the environment. The nuclear disasters of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima are just a few reminders of how nuclear power can become remarkably dangerous in very little time.

Over the last several years, states dealing with long-standing drought have embraced natural gas as an alternative to hydropower. Yet the petroleum industry has proven time and again that it maintains an absolutely dismal track record of environmental stewardship.

Even with sustainable options such as traditional hydropower, solar and wind, there are drawbacks. Hydro has far-reaching environmental impacts that alter the ecology of the river and natural habitats. Dams often obstruct fish migration and challenge their populations. Hydroelectric power plants can also change water temperature, further damaging the ecosystem. Many times, methane forms in reservoirs, which is then released into the atmosphere.

And solar tower farms are problematic due to the fact that they literally fry birds to death in midair from the concentrated light and heat. Moreover, the creation of solar panels is energy intensive and generates its own substantial share of waste during manufacturing. Wind farms are known to decimate bird populations as well. Both forms of energy production are also reliant on changeable and unpredictable conditions.

But just imagine for a moment a technology that has very little environmental impact and uses a readily available resource to generate energy. It’s here now and the prospects look promising.

The Future of Power

LucidEnergy, a U.S. startup based out of Portland, Oregon, has harnessed a near perfect source of energy: the constant flow of running water found in city pipes. Forty-two inch hydro turbines placed within the pipes spin and power generators, which in turn feed the energy back into the city’s electrical grid. The turbines don’t slow the water flow nor influence pipeline efficiency.

Launched in 2007, the company began with a pilot program in Riverside, California, and now has moved onto a full-scale project in Portland. Gregg Semler, president and CEO of LucidEnergy, said they originally began by seeking ways to capture energy from streams. The team quickly realized, however, that predicting the flow of the stream would be difficult, and also that hydropower is hard on the environment.

These discoveries closed one door, but opened another when they struck upon the idea of using municipal water flow, which maintains a reasonably constant rate. And since the company would be tapping into an existing man-made infrastructure, there was no need to worry about negative environmental impacts.

Laura Wisland, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, points out another benefit:

“We are less vulnerable to variations in the ability to generate this type of hydropower than we are with projects with large dams that need to be full,” she said. “I live in California, and we’re having a drought, and our ability to develop hydropower is much more limited than it has been in the past…I don’t think you’d see the same level of variability with this type of hydro power; there’s a more constant supply of power.”

In order for the system to be cost and energy effective, the generators need to be placed in pipes where the water is gravity-fed. Otherwise, any power produced would be negated by the energy required to pump water. The system also monitors the quality of drinking water and overall state of the city’s water supply network.

According to Good magazine:

“Once fully operational, the [Portland] installation is expected to generate $2,000,000 worth of renewable energy capacity over twenty years, based on “an average of 1,100 megawatt hours of energy per year, enough electricity to power up to 150 homes.” The money generated will be split among the project’s investors, as well as will be used to recoup the cost of construction, and ongoing upkeep of the system. After 20 years the Portland Water Bureau will have the right to own the entire project and all subsequent energy and profit generated by it.”

To date, the LucidPipe Power System has garnered interest from cities in California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as in Brazil, Canada, China and Mexico. A contract in Johannesburg, South Africa is already in the works.

Lucid Energy Overview with President and CEO Gregg Semler


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About the author:

Carolanne Wright

I’m Carolanne — a writer, chef, traveler and enthusiastic advocate for sustainability, organics and joyful living. It’s good to have you here. If you would like to learn more, connect with me at Thrive-Living.net or visit Twitter.com/Thrive_Living.


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