An Assessment of Energy Potential at Public Drinking Water Systems: Initial Report on Methodology

Conduit hydropower is the most economically feasible type of new hydropower development, taking advantage of existing infrastructure, expedited permitting due to 2013 federal regulatory reforms, and in most states, high-energy value available through net-metering. To date, however, there has not yet been a comprehensive national assessment of the untapped potential of conduit hydropower.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, a new assessment helps the U.S. hydropower community to estimate the national conduit hydropower potential—focusing on municipal conduit hydropower. The report introduces a geospatial conduit resource assessment method designed for public water systems (PWSs). Multiple public and non-public data sets, including PWS information, water intake locations, water treatment plant locations, city boundaries, digital elevations, historic water use, and existing conduit hydropower development, were collected for the states of Oregon and Colorado.

Energy recovery hydropower installed within a water treatment plant (photo courtesy of Canyon Hydro)

The analysis represents the first step in getting a systematic understanding of national conduit hydropower potential across various states/regions and eventually across multiple sectors (i.e., municipal, agricultural, and industrial). Projects examined in this study will be developed mainly through installation of hydropower generation in parallel to existing pressure-reducing valves to recover energy that would otherwise be wasted.

Conduit hydropower potentials using surface water with a positive gravitational net head were identified in 89 PWSs in Oregon and 63 PWSs in Colorado.

The report shows a total 12,380 kW of potential conduit hydropower capacity in Oregon and 33,990 kW in Colorado. Corresponding annual hydroelectricity energy generation is estimated to be 65,068 MWh/year in Oregon and 202,475 MWh/year in Colorado.

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Kurt Johnson, Telluride Energy

Shih-Chieh Kao, Oak Ridge National Laboratory