Alternatives to Dams: The Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System

Alternatives to Dams: The Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System

If you follow my facebook page (facebook.com/hydratelife) you may have noticed that I post links to a lot of articles about dams and their negative impacts on the environment and the people living around them.  While I do understand that countries need energy in order to prosper I also believe that there are sustainable ways of going about this, and that dams are not the answer.  Well, if I’m going to say that dams are not the answer then I guess I need to give some alternatives, so today I’ll be talking about small water turbines that can be used to produce electricity.

First, let’s look at some of the problems with dams:

  • Ecological disruption: movement of fish, sediment, vegetation, nutrients are affected
  • Seepage and evaporation of the water being held by the dam
  • Displacement of any people or wildlife living in the area that would be flooded by the dam
  • Possible displacement of any people downstream of the dam that rely on the waters
  • If the dam is breached it will lead to flooding and possibly death
  • Dams can lead to tensions between neighboring countries that share a river if the upstream country dams the river
  • Changes to the water table

There are other cons to dams, but for now this small group should serve my purpose.  Let’s move onto talking about how these small water turbines can help rid us of our dependence on dams.

One of the first of these types of systems that I heard about was Verdant Power’s Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System so I’ll be writing about them.  When I first saw this I was amazed that they weren’t in use in more places and at an earlier time.  This system that was introduced in 2008 employs a 3-blade turbine connected to a generator that produces electricity from the flow of a river or tides.  Here’s what they look like:

The one pictured here part of an installation in the East River in New York City.  These turbines, or Kinetic Hydropower Systems, can be installed anywhere that there is a flow of water, even in man-made channels.  They don’t require any major infrastructure work, they are completely submerged so you can’t see them from shore, and they’re completely silent.  They can also be customized to fit where they’ll be placed in order to maximize their output. In the East River they produce an average energy production of 270 kilowatt hours (kWh)/day, 8.1 megawatt hours (MWh)/month, or 97 MWh/year.  What does that mean? One turbine can generate enough energy for 16 average New York State residences!  These systems will also work in developing countries.  Because they have few moving parts the frequency of required maintenance is low, and compared to dams they are also more cost effective.  When you put all of this together with the fact that they don’t change the flow of the water, and there is little to no impact on the environment this system is a big winner.

The Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System is already in place in the East River of New York City as well as the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, Canada and Verdant Power is talking to California with the hopes of installing their system in the thousands of miles of man-made canals that feed most of the farming in the Central Valley.  Looking at this now it’s hard to believe that no one came up with this before 2008.  It seems like the perfect solution; clean energy, pretty much invisible unless you’re really looking for them, lower cost than dams, and can be used in practically any body of moving water.  The only con I was thinking about was that if you have boats on the waterway then the water would need to be deep enough to allow for both, but I’m sure there’s some way around that.  Overall I this this is a great system that can produce clean energy without affecting the surrounding environment.  Isn’t that what we’ve been looking for?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll leave you with a video showing the installation in the East River.

 

 

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