Cities are often seen as a giant vacuum of resources and largely inefficient nodes of hyperconsumption. This is especially true in terms of energy. Cities consume massive amounts of energy, while hardly producing any of their own. With a new breakthrough in clean technology, this type of trend may actually change. In January 2015, the City of Portland, Oregon shifted towards becoming a more sustainable city--announcing the installation of a hydropower turbine in one of the city's sewer mains.
The LucidPipeTM Power System system, developed by Lucid Energy, marks the first installation of its kind in the United States. It was financed using private capital with little cost to the City of Portland or the Portland Water Bureau. The company secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with the local energy utility, Portland General Electric (PGE) to provide renewable energy to the City of Portland for the next 20 years. The turbine was installed within the city limits underneath an intersection in southeast Portland, about a 20 minute drive from the city center.
The system works by utilizing the normal flow of water through the pipe to spin four, 42" turbines, producing electricity. This "small hydropower" system is enticing to utility companies, as it allows them to generate revenue from an untapped resource--the gravity fed water already flowing through their pipes.
The turbine was designed in a way that it does not interrupt the flow of water, so the city's water services will not be obstructed in any way, despite the newly installed machinery.
The system is designed to generate up to 200 kilowatts of electricity, depending on the velocity of water flow. As such, the highest amounts of electricity are generated while residents are in their homes utilizing their appliances that rely on the use of water. This is an added bonus, as many other renewable energy systems typically generate power at times when most people are not consuming energy. For example, solar power is mainly generated during the day when most people are not in their own homes. The Portland installation is expected to generate up to 1,100 megawatt hours of energy, meaning this single system could provide enough energy to power up to 150 homes.
The system is similar in design and function as normal hydroelectric systems, however turbines are traditionally installed in dams instead of municipal water pipes. The uniqueness of this system addresses many issues that are of concern to the environmental community when it comes to hydroelectricity. Dams are often criticized for damaging the natural state of rivers and harming aquatic life. A water-pipe hydropower system has neither of these criticisms. In addition, the vast network of gravity-fed municipal water pipes provides the opportunity for many installations, thus the potential for increased amounts of renewable energy installations. Lucid Energy CEO Bill Kelly believes the Portland project is a success and there are talks about additional installations in the city in the upcoming year. The project has generated global interest in the clean-tech community, and municipal utilities around the world are taking notice.
This clean-tech breakthrough has the potential to make major impacts in urban planning and sustainable cities. Most energy generation has long been kept to the outskirts of cities, where power plant emissions would be less harmful to the general public. In addition, the solar energy boom is greatly attributed to the efforts of private homeowners installing solar panels on their own rooftops. Small hydropower projects such as the Portland LucidPipeTM Power System require major partnerships across several different private and public organizations. Installation would require the need for road closures and detours, potentially causing major traffic delays. The situation would need public input in order to decide where the installations would be ideally located in order to minimize conflict. These projects would have to be integrated into urban plans and strategies in order to be realized. However, the ability to generate renewable energy with little impact and within the city limits provides vast opportunities to cities who wish to limit their carbon emissions and reduce their environmental impact.
How does your city product sustainable energy? Do you think cities should use resources to develop innovative ways to generate energy within city limits? What would you like to see your city do to facilitate these types of projects? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Photograph and map produced by Kevin Gooley. Graphic produced by Bjorn Sorenson. Data linked to sources.