Water that moves through waterways is a largely untapped source of micro hydropower. To assess that potential, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation has just completed a study [PDF] that assessed the prospects of water conduits that drop water more than five feet to add clean power to the grid.
What they found was that these various waterways have the potential to generate an extra 1.5 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity every year, even while simply doing their “day job” as conduits for our water supplies.
“Hydropower is an important part of President Obama’s initiative to generate 80 percent of electricity in this country from a diverse set of clean energy sources by 2035,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a DOI press report. “Identifying and developing hydropower potential at existing facilities is one way we’re putting the all-of-the-above strategy to develop American energy sources into practice.”
Initially, as part of its work in upgrading or rehabilitating such sites, the Bureau of Reclamation identified sites at 191 existing federally owned existing hydropower generation that could be tapped for additional hydropower, to produce an additional 1.2 million MWh of electricity every year.
Some examples of the kinds of micro hydro devices that can be used in these kinds of municipal waterways include this kind of turbine from Seattle’s Hydrovolts, specifically designed to harness water in canals, or the VIVACE, which is designed to harness slow-moving water.
The Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates 188 water projects across the Western states with tunnels, dams, dikes, siphons, reservoirs, canals, diversion dams, pipelines and other distribution infrastructure for agricultural irrigation and provision of water for municipal and industrial use.
Reclamation identified 530 sites, in its five regions, comprising 17 Western states, for analysis in the resource assessment. Of these, 191 sites were determined to have some level of hydropower potential.
The purpose of the resource assessment is to provide information on whether or not hydropower development at existing Reclamation facilities would be economically viable and possibly warrant further investigation.
If any of the sites they assessed look promising enough to warrant further assessment, municipalities and private developers would be better able to further evaluate the potential to increase hydropower production at Reclamation sites.