Utilities look to turn their water pipes into hydropower
Faced with falling revenue because of water conservation, some utilities are looking to make money from the water pipes they already have in the ground—and creating low-cost hydroelectric energy in the process.
“Small hydropower” captures electricity by using water that flows through a pipe to turn micro turbines in the lines, or by harvesting energy from stream flows in irrigation canals and streams. Other technology on display at a water expo in Anaheim, Calif., this week included the latest in pumps, pipes and smart water meters, as well as leak detection and filtration systems.
“Many agencies are not going to the municipal bond market, but instead going to private banks to put separate debt vehicles right on these little hydro units and creating a new revenue line,” NLine Energy founder and CEO Matt Swindle said in an interview at the ACE15-American Water Works Association (AWWA) Conference and Exposition.
Venture capital and crowdsourcing funds have flowed into the space. Some of the big companies active in the solar and wind markets also finance small hydropower systems that can generate revenue that’s then reinvested into infrastructure work. That’s potentially a significant development in places like California, where a serious, four-year drought is cutting into water utilities’ revenue.