Portland Now Generates Electricity From Turbines Installed In City Water Pipes

| Create!

Above Photo: via lucidenergy.com

You’d be forgiven if the phrase “Portland goes green with innovative water pipes” doesn’t immediately call to mind thoughts of civil engineering and hydro-electric power. And yet, that’s exactly what Oregon’s largest city has done by partnering with a company called Lucid Energy to generate clean electricity from the water already flowing under its streets and through its pipes.

Portland has replaced a section of its existing water supply network with Lucid Energy pipes containing four forty-two inch turbines. As water flows through the pipes, the turbines spin and power attached generators, which then feed energy back into the city’s electrical grid. Known as the “Conduit 3 Hydroelectric Project,” Portland’s new clean energy source is scheduled to be up and running at full capacity in March. According to a Lucid Energy FAQ detailing the partnership, this will be the “first project in the U.S. to secure a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for renewable energy produced by in-pipe hydropower in a municipal water pipeline.”

A short promotional video describes the technology and benefits involved in harnessing energy from municipal water pipelines:

Lucid Energy Overview with President and CEO Gregg Semler

As the video explains, Lucid Energy’s system isn’t affected by the sort of external conditions (namely: the weather) upon which other renewable energy sources–like solar and wind power– are reliant. Nor does the technology, completely ensconced within a pipe, have adverse effects on a surrounding environmental ecosystem, as an exposed hydroelectric dam might.

Fast Company points out that, in order to be cost and energy effective, Portland’s new power generators must be installed in pipes where water flows downhill, without having to be pumped, as the energy necessary to pump the water would negate the subsequent energy gleaned. However, Fast Company also notes that the system does more than simply provide electricity: It can monitor both the overall condition of a city’s water supply network as well as assess the drinking quality of the water flowing through it.

image via youtube screen capture

According to Lucid Energy’s FAQ, the partnership between the company and the city of Portland is currently finishing its “commissioning” phase, in which the system–particularly the aforementioned monitors and sensors–is put through rigorous final-stage testing. Once fully operational, the 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.

Using green tech to generate power and revenue from an existing municipal resource? Now all Portland needs to do is put a bird on it.

  • Jon

    What a fabulous idea! This should be part of Green New Deal!

  • Money.good.is? Really? Technology can be either good or bad depending on how it is applied. Money is an idea that has been culturally generated. The manners in which technologies are implemented are heavily influenced by cultural context, in this case money and monetary values. The simplistic view that the values associated with money are ‘good’ is to a great extent the core of the problem facing humanity.

    Today, money represents exclusive values that promote personal profit, in this case, the profit of Lucid energy. If Lucis were truly interested in the common welfare of the planet and of life upon the Earth, then they would be making their technologies available without any consideration for personal or corporate profit. Afterall, it is in the common interest of all life to move towards truly renewable and sustainable forms of energy generation. But this cultural promotion by ‘Money.good.is’ would have us believe that Lucid is a ‘good’ company because they are making a ‘profit’ while installing a technology for the general benefit of humanity. Really?

    The monetary market system incentivises people to behave socially, environmentally and culturally unsustainably. Humanity is deeply culturally addicted to the idea of money. In 20 years time, when the city of Portland may be allowed to buy back the profit making capacity of these four power generating turbines, if they still have any useable life left in them, the entire planet will likely be substantially less hospitable for much of today’s life largely because of the self serving profit seeking motivations associated with money and the values of ‘moneythink’. The monetary addiction of humanity, forces people to attempt to defend money as a force for ‘good’ or at the very least, as ‘neutral’ in its impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money motivates people to behave in ways that are self serving to the exclusion of others. That is what is embodied in the ‘competition’ of the ‘invisible hand’ of the ‘free market’. Self service in competition against all others.

    If there is anything a challenged humanity needs today, it is a way in which to promote the true foundation of human culture, sharing and collaboration, not its opposites. The idea of ‘good’ money is a whitewashed sepulcher in which to bury a global human monetary market civilization. Our human cultural capacity is perhaps every human beings most singular characteristic. The ideas that empower that capacity either serve to sustain the quality of life upon the Earth, or they serve death. The deeply embedded values in the idea of money as conceived today are essentially suicidal. Those who attempt to defend money as it exists are embracing that death. Some who have begun to understand this dynamic to one degree or another seeks ways to make ‘better’ expressions of the money idea while we still have time.

    At an even deeper level, the human capacity to imagine, allows a remarkable degree of flexibility in human behaviors based around the various cultural stories we embrace. Even a cursory glance at human history makes it difficult to argue that human beings are either ‘good’ or ‘evil’ based upon the extremely wide range of human behaviors that have existed. I personally define ‘good’ and ‘evil’ behaviors in terms of the degree to which any particular set of human behaviors promotes a sustainable quality of life upon the Earth. Cultural ideas that drive human behaviors, therefore, also have a relative degree of value based upon the same criteria. Does a cultural idea promote human behaviors that create a sustainable quality of life upon the Earth? The very complex cultural idea of ‘money’ as it exists today simply does not promote human behaviors that create a sustainable quality of life upon the Earth. If we every wish to create a sustainable human civilization, we must therefore do either one of two things. We must either entirely abandon the unsustainable idea of money as it exists today or we must change the way we imagine money so that it does not motivate unsustainable human behaviors.

  • Jon Ripley

    They have to pump it uphill first, is that cost accounted for? Certainly those turbines must reduce the flow rate and downstream water pressure. Seems like it will cost money, not make it, with installation and maintenance costs.

  • Milton Crow

    Portland’s primary reservoir is significantly uphill from from the city. Most of the water grid requires neither pumps nor water towers. Portland is also one of the few major US cities lacking enough insolation to rely solely on photovoltaics.

    Micro-hydroelectric is the future for the Pacific NW, and this solution integrates into existing infrastructure.

  • Jon Ripley

    So this really only works in a very few specific locations, ones with reservoirs naturally placed significantly above the use level. Not very common.

  • rgaura

    I appreciate the critique of the concept of money. Essentially, we need to differentiate between dirty and clean money. We need to transform how we see money, as neither good nor bad, but like energy, it is a tool. The laws and structures of our institutions support illegal and destructive actions (like fracking, for example), and the system is jiggered to make it seem like it makes sense economically, when it doesn’t from the point of view of health and living systems.
    It is a real trick to commodify everything, and alienate social systems that support life for free. We can start by cleaning up our investments, and making sure our investments of time, attention, and money are serving life. Its a time of great opportunity, as many oppressive and extractive systems are failing. We need to tap the immense potential of our collective creativity in this transformation.

  • WaterGenie

    I plan to send information about Lucid Energy to my water provider in my city. I hope other people will do the same which could increase the use of this new technology to lower the cost of water in communities.

  • WaterGenie

    Actually my community may not qualify because we have very old pipes which are leaking and need to be replace. Unfortunately replacing all the water infrastructure is very expensive and my city has elected to put plastic liners in the pipes as a temporary, short-term solution. So with plastic lining the pipes, perhaps this intervention cannot be used. Or on a more hopeful note, using this technology may help to pay for replacing the old, worn-out pipes.

  • worldcitizen55

    “.. Fast Company points out that, in order to be cost and energy effective, Portland’s new power generators must be installed in pipes where water flows downhill, without having to be pumped, as the energy necessary to pump the water would negate the subsequent energy gleaned. … ”

    Well, yes, but I’m puzzled by this.
    It’s not just the ‘downhill’ part of the system that must considered, but also any subsequent ‘uphill’ (power pumped) parts of the system I think? Which is the case of a the vast majority of public water systems.
    If we take the energy out on the downhill bit, it will less to start the uphill bit, which will need to be made up by the pumping energy input, to maintain the same outflow rate and pressure.
    How can it be otherwise?

  • tsyganka

    That comment is needlessly bleak – like a dog in the manger attitude. Why sit and do Nothing when Portland can be helped?

  • Jon Ripley

    Just checking on the physics side, I see many news stories that defy basic physics, like running cars on water. I must query those.