Tapping Tap Water and Toilets to Power Cities
energywhiz | On 31, Oct 2013
Today hydroelectric energy is responsible for some 7% of all electrical energy produced in the United States, and accounts for two-thirds of renewable power generation. Virtually all of that is sourced from controversial and massive hydroelectric projects like the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams, which irrevocably change whole ecosystems.
Lucid Energy in Portland, Oregon is applying the same principals of harvesting electricity from flowing water without diverting our waterways and threatening local ecologies, and applying it to the billions of gallons of water already running through pipelines under our cities and towns.
Wings in Pipes
The LucidPipe Power System produces electricity by placing small turbines inside the water pipes. Much like windmills, when the fluid moves past them, they rotate, generating electricity.
The turbines Lucid uses are special. They are spherical in shape and rotate around their vertical axis like a spinning top, designed specifically for water flowing through pipes.
“Our technology utilizes a unique, vertical axis spherical turbine that fits inside large diameter water pipes,” explains CEO Gregg Semler. “Water flows through the them, generating power as they spin. The turbine has been carefully engineered to maximize efficiency and power generation without interrupting the flow of water. As water speed increase, power production increases. All without any environmental impact.”
Lucid’s system employs a patented “lift-based” design for its turbines. This means the blades act like little airplane wings. When the blade moves through the down stream half of its rotation, the moving water pushes it. When the blade moves through the upstream half of its journey, instead of being slowed down, it taps the aerodynamics of the head-on rushing water like a bird hovering or rising on stiff winds. Instead of impeding the turbine (or the turbine impeding the water flow), the wing and water work symbiotically to move the turbine more efficiently and convert its mechanical movement into electricity.
A series of many turbines can be installed in sequence with little effect on water flow, creating a compelling additive effect that can produce hundreds of kilowatts or megawatts of electricity from relatively short segments of pipelines.
At scale, a pipeline fully-loaded with LucidPipe turbines can produce electricity at between $0.04 and $0.09 per kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. The reliability of the water flow, and the fact the LucidPipe system can generate power across a very wide range of flow conditions, water volumes and flow speeds, means Lucid Energy can sell the economically-produced electricity from their “water-to-wire” system into baseload, high quality electricity, producing energy when its needed and commanding the premium prices that come with it.
The Giver of Life giving life to Cities
Given its importance to sustaining human life, the flow of water to our homes and businesses is virtually guaranteed. “Microhydro” solutions like Lucid Energy’s promise to enable our municipal water systems to save on their electricity bills which is frequently their largest operating costs, generate a new source of revenue and provide renewable electrical life to cities by simply harvesting the energy already flowing to and from our homes and businesses.
The average American uses over 100 gallons of water per day. That’s some 30 billion gallons of water flowing into our municipal water systems each day at an average of two million gallons per minute. And there is that again flowing into wastewater treatment. That’s a lot of reliable, harnessable energy.
Today, the cost per kilowatt installed for the LucidPipe system is $2,500 to $3,000, compared to around $1,800 per kilowatt installed for large solar farms or $2,000 per kilowatt installed for wind farms of size, but neither wind nor solar can be relied upon for consistent baseload contributions because they are weather-dependent. This means you would need four to five times the amount of solar or wind to produce the same amount of electricity generated from the LucidPipe Power System.
Best of all, Lucid Energy’s water-to-wire system operates inside the protected infrastructure of pipelines, which means it can safely produce electricity independent of the grid or weather conditions, with no negative affects on local or global ecosystems.
Age is Opportunity
The EPA has reported that nearly $400 billion of investment will be needed over the next two decades to upgrade and refurbish the thousands of miles of aging pipe, thousands of treatment plants, storage tanks, and other key assets that need to be upgraded to ensure the public health, security, and economic well-being of our cities, towns, and communities. Lucid Energy’s system can piggyback on those public works projects, providing an opportunity to lower installation costs and replace ordinary pipelines with power-generating pipelines.
Water infrastructure is expensive to build or replace, but producing electricity from the same infrastructure can simultaneously create a new source of perpetual revenue to offset capital and operating cost.
“The US and Europe need to replace very old and failing infrastructure,” noted CEO Semler. “As this happens, our system can help mitigate the re-investment in water infrastructure, while providing decades of reliable renewable energy. It’s the nature of municipalities that water systems pretty well parallel electrical grid infrastructure. Lucid Energy’s systems can economically convert that water energy into electricity very near to the grid and those areas of highest electricity demand— cities.”