A Portland start-up has tapped the city's water pipes as a new source of renewable hydropower that doesn't disrupt fish migration or stream flows.
Lucid Energy has installed a series of small hydroelectric generators inside a pipe that carries drinking water to the city. The company announced Tuesday that its new in-pipe hydro system is now producing power for Portland General Electric customers.
It's the first arrangement of its kind in the country. Lucid has a 20-year agreement to sell the power generated by water rushing through the city pipe. Some of that revenue will come back to the city to help offset the cost of running its water system.
Lucid Energy CEO Gregg Semler said his company's in-pipe system offers a way to generate hydropower without environmental impacts. Plus, he said, it's constant – unlike solar and wind energy.
"The advantage we have compared to say solar or wind is we produce electricity around the clock," he said. "It's not weather dependent. So, electric utilities and farmers and industrial users can count on our energy from these pipes for energy around the clock."
The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city's water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city's water pipe.
Right now, the system is still in test mode; it's scheduled to begin full energy production within the next two months.
The company expects the turbines to generate $2 million worth of renewable energy over the next 20 years. After that, the Portland Water Bureau can take control of the system and the power it produces.
Semler said he hopes to see the same type of system installed in cities across the country. The company is already working on possible projects in California, Arizona and Las Vegas.
"There's a huge amount of potential for this," he said. "Once we've proven Portland over the next few months, we'll announce our next one."