Flushing water down the drain needs no longer to be seen as a complete waste of this valuable resource. Well, not for residents of Portland, Oregon at any rate. Portland has taken the bold initiative to harness hydroelectric power from water flowing through pipes leading to and from private residences in the city.
According to an article published recently in Inhabitat, when either drinking water or wastewater flows down pipes that are equipped with turbines, it generates energy that is fed into a separate power-grid, which currently supplies power to 150 homes in Portland. The project is currently only being operated on a small scale, but if all the water pipes in the city were to be retrofitted with power-generating turbines, there would be enough power to provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of residences.
Hydroelectric power is nothing new, however, replacing hydroelectric dams with pre-existing water and wastewater pipe infrastructure is a novel approach. What's more, it is much more environmentally friendly as it doesn't disrupt natural ecological processes that endanger freshwater fish and other forms of wildlife. It is also a very reliable source of energy. There is a constant flow of water to and from residences, so it is less likely to be impacted by seasonal fluctuations in water levels that very often limit the effectiveness of hydroelectric dams, or the daily changes in weather that affect solar or wind power.
To see how water pipes generate hydroelectric power, check out the video below:
The domestic hydroelectric project is coordinated by Portland based start-up, Lucid Energy. Lucid Energy's CEO, Gregg Semler, finds it exciting that his company is a leading innovator in finding renewable energy solutions. “I really love doing things that other people haven’t done before,” said Semler.
However, while this latest innovation is enticing and holds lots of promise, it is also expensive to implement, perhaps prohibitively so for many cities. The cost of implementation may be discouraging to many cities, and thus may limit the extent to which water pipes are retrofitted with energy-generating turbines. On the upside; it is much more cost effective to implement the technology into new pipes designed specifically for that purpose, making it a viable option for new or expanding communities to consider.
However, even though the cost of retrofitting existing water pipes is expensive, the outlay should prove to be cost effective in the long-term. As transporting water uses lots of energy, cities could minimize energy costs by harnessing the power generated directly from the water being supplied. Surplus energy can be fed into the grid to power local homes or be sold to local energy utilities to reimburse the initial outlay.
While some may find the idea of using wastewater for energy distasteful, if you stop and consider the impact and pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, the idea begins to get a tad more appealing. Even though the source may be considered dirty, the energy produced is both clean, green and renewable.