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Smart pipes harvest electricity from drinking water flows

The city of Portland in Oregon, has launched a system that generates electricity when drinking water flows through the city’s pipes. Small turbines in the pipes spin in the flowing water, and send that energy into a generator.

Gregg Semler, CEO of Lucid Energy, the Portland-based start-up that designed the new system says that the system has no environmental impact, unlike conventional hydroelectric schemes that need dams to provide the flowing water.

“But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting,” he said.

The pipes only work in places where water is naturally flowing downward with gravity and not where the water is being pumped.

But the smart pipes also can monitor water flows, so the authorities can react quickly in the event of a burst or leaking pipe.

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

The company sees California as a key market, where water is scarce and 20% of the state’s total energy use goes into the water supply. The smart pipes would allow utilities to generate at least some of their own power.

Once tests are complete on the Portland system, the company says that it will provide about 1,100 megawatt hours of energy annually.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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