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Argument: Modernizing dams can substantially increase electricity generation

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"A quick fix to up hydro power globally?". Energy Smart, Word Press. March 6, 2008" - Hyrdo Green Energy has developed a hydro-kinetic power system that can be placed in-stream for generating power, for example, along rivers without the massive installation requirements of a dam and, thus, minimal implications on the river’s natural flow. Their approach got some attention a couple years ago and seemed quite Energy COOL at the time. They mount their system on a barge, lowering the turbine into the water, rather than building from the river bottom (or damning the river), and generate power from the river’s current. The barge enables moving the system (as it makes sense or is required) and also provides a platform for any required maintenance. Hmm. This looked of real interest as a way to quickly establish power generation on rivers around the world at relatively low cost and in a distributed fashion.

A specific application of their technology, one that they are actively pursuing for a test program in Minnesota, seems potentially quite valuable as some Silver Dust to help change the energy equation. Rather than putting the system somewhere on a river, for example, independent of existing infrastructure, Hydro Green will be putting one of their systems in the spillway of an existing dam. What are some of the benefits of this approach?

  • It is reusing a resource, gaining more power from the water that has already generated power. This is a quick ‘boost’ to the plant’s energy efficiency.
  • The dam has existing infrastructure (such as transformers, power lines) that can be used to move the power ‘to market’.
  • Permitting processes are, as mentioned above, a real nightmare for hydro projects. As this is within a spillway, the licensing process is different, within the existing plant’s “capacity”, and thus lowering the cost/time for getting permitted. [Note: fast permitting isn't necessarily "good", but work through the negatives here. The only serious one (and it does matter) seems likely to be the potential impact on fish survivability for fish that have gone through the dam and are disoriented coming through the turbine. Thus, this merits better understanding and evaluation before this technology is deployed on a massive scale.]
  • If it works (as promised), this is a quite fast way to increase clean power production from existing facilities with (it seems on the first blush) minimal (if any) environmental impact.

They will be testing the system at an existing 4.4 mw plant and expect to see about 200 kilowatts of addition production. This is a 5.7% increase in the dam’s productivity.

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