How Portland, Oregon Uses its Water Pipes to Create Electricity

There is absolutely no environmental impact in this sustainable energy source

Jan 11, 2019


How Portland, Oregon Uses its Water Pipes to Create Electricity | There is absolutely no environmental impact in this sustainable energy source

Portland Oregon has a very ingenious way of generating power. They do it in their water pipes. That's right: when you turn on the tap in Portland you are getting water and energy at no extra charge.

The city installed a hydropower system that captures energy as water flows through its main pipelines without the environmental impact of building a dam. There are small turbines in some of the water pipes that spin in the flowing water, and that sends energy into a generator.

Unlike solar power or wind, the system can generate electricity in any weather, anytime since water is always flowing through them and there is absolutely no impact on water delivery or quality.

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

Lucid Energy designed and installed four 42" 50 KW power generating turbine pipes into one of the city's main pipelines. The power it generates is sent into the electrical grid. The system can't power the entire city, but it does produce enough energy to power up to 150 homes. Since water utilities use a huge amount of electricity, this type of system can make it cheaper to provide water for municipalities that can use the power themselves or sell it as a source of revenue.

The Portland LucidPipe Power System was funded entirely through private investment according to Lucid Energy. The Portland Water Bureau shares in the revenues produced by the sale of electricity to Portland General Electricas part ofa 20-year power purchase agreement that began four years ago.

The money from the sale of the electricity is used to recoup the cost of the installation and the upkeep of the system. After 20 years, Water Bureau will have the right to own the system and all of the energy it produces.

This was the first agreement of this type for Lucent Energy but its second installation. The first was in Riverside, California where the energy produced is powering the city's streetlights.

The turbo pipes cannot generate power in any location, they only work in places where water is flowing naturally downward, but they do have other innovative features like water monitoring that can be utilized anywhere. The company said that there are sensors in the pipes that measure water pressure, a great indicator for determining leaking pipes, and sensors that also monitor water quality.

“We made electrical infrastructure really smart over the last 20 to 25 years, but the same hasn’t happened in water,” Semler told Fast Company. Until now.

Lucid Energy's mission is to make safe, clean drinking water more sustainable. To fulfill that, the company is now working on its next generation of turbine design. The Gen2 LucidPipe Power System will enable us to reduce costs and expand the potential number of installation sites worldwide.

“It’s a great source of remote power,” Semler told Fast Company. “So in places outside the city that don’t have an electrical grid, you’re able to use the system to generate energy.”

There is a lot of potential for a system like this. As more and more municipalities are going green, the electrical costs of providing clean water can be absorbed by the pipe power systems. This is especially true for drought-prone locations that are or will be turning to desalinated water. The energy revenue can help pay for the installations and upgrades that will be needed. It's really a good win for clean energy and clean water.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.