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Working Water

Most highly populated cities have aging infrastructure systems for water distribution. It is no secret that they will require replacement soon. If we incorporate and leverage sophisticated hydropower technology into the design, we not only renew reliable water supplies to the masses, but also repurposes the flow of water as a generated energy. By appropriately pressuring and re-circulating the water through properly positioned turbines, substantial amounts of energy can be created, stored and/or distributed. By leveraging the same turbine technology in river-based communities , the generated energy can off-set existing power needs and encourage the incorporation and utilization of electric-powered public and private transportation.

Photo of Jason Pacely
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The first phase of this initiative of this approach would be designing submersible, non-obtrusive turbine-type generators. The design and creation must be conducive to working riverways that are used as shipping lanes. Their installation, operation and maintenance cannot obstruct shipping operations. Connection to the power grid for energy to be safely collecte, stored, and accessed will be critical.

The second phase would be working with those that are engaged in local and national infrastructure renewal and expansion. Injecting water pressurization, recirculation, and mini hydrogenerator technology will be a timely addition to these talks, supplemented by smaller scale turbine-type generators for consideration.

The success of this approach is guaranteed as people are more concious of not just the consumption, but fluctating cost of fossil fuels. While is solar and wind are significant contributions to the resolving the energy dilemma, they are climate and environment dependent. Water is a constant, regardless of location and population. By leveraging the kinetic energy created by its pressurized, recirculated movement, we have an amazing opportunity to power many for ages to come.  

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

Initially, this idea will benefit larger, water based metropolitan areas (and their supported suburbs). As the idea based improvements to infrastructure are implemented, the benefits will be realized by all. The main players include the general population (they must understand and leverage their political representation), energy regulators and providers, engineering and design firms, and local/national/global governments.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

This idea creates greater, affordable access to electricity. This not only increases the demand for the power source, but also a demand for the skill-set needed to facilitate its usage and knowledge of its powered products (vehicles, appliances, etc.). Academic curriculum will adjust to meet the demands of this expanded market of consumers and employers.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The first experiment would be the design and placement of a sample turbine based generator to be placed in both the Detroit River and Savannah River would be idea. Each would be fitted with dashboard to determine how much power was generated and potentially stored. The second experiment would be the design and placement of a pressurized recirculation system in a neighborhood subdivision or apartment complex. The overall system would record metrics of energy generated and potentially captured.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

I would love to hear from engineers, energy regulation gurus, current and past power plant workers, and anyone else with insights on this perspective. I also would love to hear from those that may not agree with this approach, as their perspective is just as valuable.

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

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This idea emerged from:

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Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Jason, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the Update Entry button on the right of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. We know occasionally people have issues uploading images so let us know by hitting the Feedback button at the bottom of most pages of our site if you face any problems. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Natalie Lake

Hi Jason,

I think this is a super cool idea and I was actually going to post something similar after reading about Japan's submergible turbines! I have to wonder if these underwater turbines would be disruptive towards local ecosystems and migration patterns of fish? What do you think?

Photo of Meg Hanley

Hi Jason. An interesting approach to hydropower. Rather than focusing on positional energy (water falling from a higher location to a lower location) as traditional dams do, you are suggesting we use the power from water flow within the river, correct? Similar to tidal power. I think you need to flush out the idea of "water is a constant". Speaking as a Californian, fluctuating water flows are a given which would make using river turbines to power Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles difficult. Perhaps smaller turbines with an underwater buoying system so that the could rise and fall with flows or automatically shut off so as to not be damaged in low flows? You may also want to explore how to work with existing instream flow allotments which are used to protect fish runs, fragile fluvial (river) ecosystems and recreating activities. Our rivers are already widely used, so there is no reason to not think they can't be harnessed in new and creative ways. Focusing just offshore or in wide rivers - where effects like flows and potential damage to underwater life are mitigated by sheer volume and space might be a good start. Let's keep the wheels churning!

Photo of Anesa Kratovac

Hi Jason,

Let's say your product is viable and you have the best team around to make your hydro-power idea implementable. Have you thought about how to go about pitching this idea to policy-makers? How would you convince them that your idea is the most cost-effective and sustainable and worthy of investment? Why would they invest millions of dollars in this project when there are other imminent city issues to take care of? I am sure you are just brainstorming and have not moved on to the prototyping stage, but the issues of implementation are always the least thought of but are usually the most important in elevating an idea to reality (mass scale and utilization by the public).

I recommend doing some research in this respect on a city you could picture as your initial testing ground.

Photo of Jason Pacely

Thank you so much for the feedback and perspectives! I will try to address your questions in order.

Meg, you are spot on with your comparison to tidal power. When I say that "water is the constant", I am addressing the fact that it is present where ever there is life. Access to water for intake in its fresh form or disposal of it in its waste form requires some a series of pumping, flushing systems. Not many modern societies have escaped this dynamic. So much so that many major cities were established with coastal proximity in mind. That was the underpinning of my idea of "water is the constant".

Thank you also for lending your perspective on the fluctuating flows that California waterways present. I love the offshore spin to this idea. I would love to partner with you to expand on that idea.

Anesa, I agree with you that galvanizing the support of policymakers will be critical for implementation. It is no secret that an infrastructure overhaul (sewage system, power grid, etc.) is long overdue. The increased demand and price of energy has been made public as well. Together, these two issue make a unique platform for any politician/policy maker. Leveraging existing resources for energy generation makes the idea attractive. The creation of new jobs to support this type of work will appeal to masses. Curriculum development to train this workforce will draw academic and training institutions. Each of the aforementioned are feathers in the cap for any policy maker working in communities realizing increasing levels of unemployment and cost of living. Thank you for the challenging question. I would love it if you would help me see any other potential gaps in thinking. Looking forward to partnering with you.