Hydro Energy and Its New Developments

hydro-energyWith the images of destroyed coast lines and horrifying storm surge from Hurricane Sandy fresh in our minds, many Americans may not be entirely eager to have hydro energy headlining their focus right now.

And that would be a mistake.

Although hydropower is still in its infancy, its versatile nature and high level of renewability (whereas the sun goes down, the wind doesn’t always blow) makes the industry alive and well across many parts of the country.  Here are a few examples:

  • Honda released a video on a small, but very innovative way to utilize hydro energy last week titled, ‘Every Drop Counts.’  By collecting the wastewater that falls inside one of their US facilities, Honda engineers were able to create a hydroelectric device that saves over 77,000 lbs of Carbon Dioxide per year, or the equivalent of 7 gas-powered cars in the US.
  • Free Flow Power, an energy company based out of Boston, has also taken steps to better implement hydro energy.  They have applied for permits to install hydropower on four dams in the Pittsburgh, PA area, hoping to take advantage of hydro-capable dams within the region.  Alan Topalian, Free Flow’s regulatory lawyer, states, “If a dam is already there, installing hydropower means making the most of a resource.”
  • A new $25 million hydroelectric project is opening a month early in Kansas.  The Bowersock Mills hydropower plant is a 4.6 megawatt (mW) behemoth that lies on the Kansas River that is planned to operate under a 25-year power agreement with the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities.  Mostly funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the project will replace the aging 2.35 mW powerhouse on the other side of the river that was created in 1905.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2009, the US has a potential to produce 96,000 megawatts of conventional hydropower capacity.  Although we fall very short of that goal for the time being, there are promising developments in the industry that will continue to improve the efficiency of hydroelectric power and will bring the cost down as well.

One fascinating new development is the implementation of wave energy, or tidal movement.  The Department of Energy estimates that wave energy is capable of producing as much as 1,200 terawatt-hours, or over 136,000 megawatts!

But they’re not quite sure how yet.

The biggest stepping stone to overcome for wave energy is figuring out which method is the most efficient and cost-effective.  Ann Miles, deputy director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, states, “We have this conundrum of needing to get some projects in the water to be able to test the technology, test the energy resource and test the environmental effects.  Yet we didn’t have enough information to do the environmental reviews to get there.”

In an effort to satisfy this conundrum, the DOE announced a $4 million Pacific Marine Energy Center to be built in Oregon in the very near future.  Scientists and developers will soon have the opportunity to test new methods of energy harnessing in an open-sea environment, in hopes of developing the next best wave in hydro-energy technology.

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