As water flows through the pipes freely, the turbines spin, collecting excess energy that is then purchased by Portland General Electric, and put on the city’s power grid. Portland has installed 50 feet of so-called “LucidPipes,” which generate an average of 1,100 megawatt-hours of electricity every year. That’s enough renewable energy to power about 150 homes.
That may not seem like much. But according to Laura Wisland, a senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, for cities aiming to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels in a cost-effective way, every little bit counts.
“If a city is making this investment because they have committed to being even more aggressive than state requirements for clean electricity, that’s a significant impact,” she said.“I think any electricity provider that’s interested in relying on carbon free electricity should diversify the types of resources they invest in as much as possible, to mitigate any potential risk that one of those supplies may not be as available as expected.”
Replacing existing infrastructure with LucidPipe also costs money, and requires coordination between a given city’s electrical and water utilities. But there are some offsetting financial benefits, too. While Portland’s hydropower project cost about $1.7 million, it is expected to produce $2 million in clean energy over its 20 year contract.
“The city is very energy conscious. Wise use of water is always something that’s in the front of our minds,” Stan Vande Berge, a principal engineer at the Portland Water Bureau, said in the video. “It’s kind of the DNA that we have here.”
Van Alen Sessions is presented by Van Alen Institute with CityLab. Season Three, “Autonomous Infrastructure,” is directed and produced by Lucy Wells. The series is made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Connect with Van Alen Institute on vanalen.org.