It’s Not A Pipe Dream: Clean Energy From Water Pipes Comes To Portland
It’s a renewable energy source, but hydropower has its pitfalls. Its dams can kill fish and other marine life and majorly disrupt habitat, and they can also end up emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases — a side effect that many of hydro’s fellow renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, don’t share.
But there’s one place with near-constant running water that can be tapped for energy without causing environmental problems: cities’ drinking water pipes. LucidEnergy, a Portland, Oregon-based startup that launched in 2007, is starting to capture the energy of water pipes, beginning with a pilot project in Riverside, California and now with a full-scale project in Portland.
Gregg Semler, president and CEO of LucidEnergy, said his team originally went into the business of hydropower by looking at ways to capture energy from streams. But they soon realized that it was difficult to predict the flow of a stream, and that generating hydropower could be environmentally degrading. Pipes, on the other hand, are existing-man made infrastructure, so equipping them to be power producers doesn’t present any environmental concerns. They also pump water daily at a fairly constant rate, which allows for a consistent flow of energy.
“What’s really interesting about Lucid is this is a new source of energy that’s never really been tapped into before,” Semler said. “You take the best of hydroelectricity and put it in the pipe.”
The project touts itself as environmentally low-impact. But it could also help safeguard cities’ hydropower sources against drought, Laura Wisland, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. In California, for instance, the historic four-year drought has lowered snowpack levels and depleted reservoirs, leading to a decline in hydropower production in the state. To account for this decline, the state shifted over to natural gas — a move that cost Californians $1.4 billion more for electricity between 2011 and 2014 than in typical years, according to a Pacific Institute report.