Environment Science Technology

Turbines Harness the Power from Water Flowing Through City Pipes Underground to Power Portland Homes

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A Portland water pipeline is now producing enough electricity to power more than a hundred homes. Suddenly, when Portland residents turn on the tap they are getting water and energy for the price of one!

The Portland Water Bureau is taking advantage of new technology developed here in the Rose City.

Drinking water flowing through the a water pipe below Southeast 147th Avenue and Powell Boulevard spins four turbines.

That spinning creates energy for (Portland General Electric) PGE customers. Unlike wind or solar power, the system can generate electricity at any time of day, regardless of weather, since the pipes always have water flowing through them.

This is the first commercial application of Portland-based Lucid Energy’s turbine technology.

“Energy is the single large cost, so if we can recapture energy that’s already embedded in the flow, we can reduce the cost for everyone who needs it,” said Gregg Semler, president of Lucid Energy.

Unlike hydropower generated from dams, this technology will not hurt any migratory fish, like salmon, or have any impact on the environment.

Lucid Energy sees more applications for the technology for companies that use huge amounts of water and also for use in agriculture.

If you live in Portland, your lights may now be partly powered by your drinking water. An ingenious new system captures energy as water flows through the city’s pipes, creating hydropower without the negative environmental effects of something like a dam.

Small turbines in the pipes spin in the flowing water, and send that energy into a generator.

“It’s pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there’s no environmental impact,” says Gregg Semler, CEO of Lucid Energy, the Portland-based startup that designed the new system. “But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting.”

For water utilities, which use massive amounts of electricity, the system can make it cheaper to provide clean drinking water. Utilities can either use the power themselves or sell it to a city as a new source of revenue.

“We have a project in Riverside, California, where they’re using it to power streetlights at night,” Semler says. “During the day, when electricity prices are high, they can use it to offset some of their operating costs.”

The pipes can’t generate power in every location; they only work in places where water is naturally flowing downward with gravity (if water is being pumped, the system would waste energy). But they have another feature that can be used anywhere: The pipes have sensors that can monitor water, something that utilities couldn’t do in the past.

The biggest potential for the new system may be in places like California, where 20% of total energy use goes into the water supply—and even more electricity will be used as cities start to install desalination plants. With the pipes, utilities can generate some of their own much-needed power.

“There’s a lot of energy in going into making sure we have safe clean drinking water,” Semler says. “Our focus is really on helping water become more sustainable.”

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“Turbines Harness the Power from Water Flowing Through City Pipes Underground to Power Portland Homes”