Pipelines and conduits millions of miles long that run across the U.S., make up a close network of waterways used for agricultural, municipal, and industrial purposes.
In a new publication, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered potential opportunities in all 50 states, to efficiently leverage existing infrastructure to harvest the energy of conduit water.
In its first-ever analysis, ORNL evaluates that conduit hydropower, which uses water from structures such as water from irrigation canals and water supply pipelines, has the potential to add 1.41 gigawatts of electricity to the country’s power grid – which is sufficient for energy needs of more than a million homes.
“In fact, conduit hydropower can be reckoned as a low-hanging fruit, and this is a mere drop in the bucket,” stated the water program manager at ORNL.
Meanwhile, despite all its benefits, lack of awareness of the conduit’s hydropower potential is the biggest barrier.
In fact, for municipalities and stakeholders, the initiative to develop hydropower would be relatively easy. Hydropower generation from conduits will not require dams to be built, facility operators can directly install hydropower generators at locations with excess hydraulic head – the height of water required for hydropower generation. The generation of hydropower using conduit water could be planned with facility upgrades that replace ageing infrastructure with more energy-efficient systems.
Importantly, conduit hydropower leverages existing infrastructure with minimal environmental impact, and the permitting process has been streamlined. The federal regulatory approval process can be completed in 45 days via the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, and its revision in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. To date, more than 350 conduit hydropower systems have been built, with more to come.