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green infrastructure

  • Generating Clean, Green Energy From Water and Wastewater

    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.

    Toilet Turbines Toilet Turbines

    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.

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  • Green Infrastructure Protects Rivers Around the United States

    A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council documents progress around the United States in protecting some of the nation's most polluted rivers and lakes by installing green infrastructure in urban environments. Instead of directing rainwater off streets and rooftops into sewers and storm drains, and ultimately area waterways, green infrastructure captures rainwater where it falls for irrigation and other uses.

    Green Infrastructure Prevents Water Pollution

    This is good news, especially in cities with what's known as combined sewerage overflow systems. In cities such as Syracuse, NY, and Washington, DC, storm drains direct rainwater into the same pipes that carry household sewage to treatment plants. During major rainfalls, the system overflows, raw sewage and all, directly into local rivers.

    Green Infrastructure Relieves Overburdened Sewer Systems

    Green infrastructure prevents overflows with landscaping enhancements such as replacing concrete and blacktop with semi-pervious surfaces to allow rainwater to reach the ground below sidewalks and driveways. It means rooftop gardens and green roofs which capture rainwater and grow plants, which also help clean the urban air and capture climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions. And, it means repurposing rainwater for other uses like landscaping irrigation, rainwater collection systems, and in Syracuse, hockey rink ice.

    Green Infrastructure Example: Syracuse NY

    NRDC's report Rooftops to Rivers II documents green infrastructure practices in a dozen U.S. cities. The video below describes just one city's experience.

    Anyone Can Install Green Infrastructure

    While major projects such as those described by Syracuse NY and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney in the video above are quite large in scale, just about anyone can implement green infrastructure enhancements on their property.

    • A Rainwater collection system is readily available for purchase at home and garden stores or on online. Rain barrels enable homeowners to disconnect one or more of their roof downspouts from the storm water system and use that water for plants and landscaping during dry periods. It can also been used for drinking water as long as you purify the water with a system like a berkey water filter.

    • Even without the barrel, homeowners can plant rain gardens and use rooftop runoff to enhance their yards. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has published a downloadable manual on rain gardens for homeowners.

    • Though requiring professional installation, green roofs are becoming more popular on individual houses.

    • And when renovating driveways and sidewalks there are more and more alternatives to traditional impermeable concrete and asphalt. Innovations such as interlocking concrete tiles provide the ease of traditional driveways while allowing the rainwater through.

    For more information on green infrastructure and how individuals might install it, check out NRDC's report or the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

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