Removing Dams — Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater

As a New York Times editorial recently pointed out, in the past 10 years some 430 dams have been removed.  A good number of them were in states of disrepair, but many, (the majority?) were removed because dams create problems for spawning salmon and other fish. This may seem like a good thing for wildlife and the Environment, but it’s also a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There’s no doubt that dams, which are part of a traditional hydro-electric plant, are bad for the spawning fish.  They’re probably not the best idea for those humans living near them either.  But we don’t necessarily need to choose between closing off a river entirely and harnessing that flowing water’s power to generate electricity.  There are several designs and concepts, at least one of which has been featured here, which would act like the old fashion water-powered mills.  The flow of the water that pushes a mechanism with force enough to grind grain can certainly manage to generate some electricity — without stopping fish from pursuing their breeding cycle.

As we work towards environmentally friendly solutions to our energy wants and needs, let’s not go throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  There’s nothing wrong with harnessing energy which would otherwise go to waste, so long as we’re keeping the Bigger Picture in mind.  (No, that doesn’t mean a zillion studies and environmental impact opinions.  A bit of forethought, consideration, and good intention to make as little impact as possible, these will serve just fine.)  When these hydro-electric systems were taken down, did anyone consider harnessing energy along the river, instead of across it?

Dams are just one of the places where we may want to think and rethink how we’re solving the energy crisis and working towards indendence from fossil fuels.   We don’t want to trash the environment or be indifferent to other species in the process, but there are very few things in the world which are truly mutually exclusive.  Let’s just think things out a little better, look a bit further ahead, as we move into an era that allows us the energy we want and need without running roughshod over the planet in the process.

World’s First Commercial Wave Generators Now Operating!

Three miles off the coast of Acuadora, Portugal, we find the site of the world’s first commercial wave-generated electric plant. In it’s first stage, the three Pleamis wave energy converters (PWEC) are operational. Each produces 750 kilowatts. Once the entire farm of 25-30 PWECs is complete, it is expected to generate some 25 MegaWatts of clean, Green energy, powering 15,000 households. This will eliminate more than 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The generators, which look like a cross between a submarine and a sea serpent, work by harnessing the energy of the ocean’s waves. The segments move on hinged joints, actuating hydraulic engines which move the generating mechanism. Each is tied in to a cable on the ocean floor, allowing several units to feed into the same electric line. Though some aspects of the manufacturing of the units may not be Green, the harvesting of the tides’ energy certainly seems to be.

Consider this: There are about 6.8 billion people on the planet at this time. In a worst-case scenario, if they had energy consumptions equal to those used in the above projection and there was an average of 3 people per household, 150,000 such completed wave farms could provide clean energy for every household on the planet! Considering that many households include far more than 3 people, it’s realistic to say that, in practice, they’d need between 75,000 and 100,000 such farms, which is even better news! Do we want to cover the planet’s oceans with wave generators? Of course not, but they’re not the only clean, passive harnessing of energy either. Wind farms, photovoltaic and other solar energy solutions will also play their part. What this does clearly demonstrate, though, is that we can have clean power for everyone on the planet, and that’s cause for celebration!

What’s the cost? So far, the combined investment is about 9 million Euros, but that includes R&D costs which would not be required once the generators are being made in quantity. The per unit cost is certain to drop well below 3 million Euros per unit, with each unit powering 500 households. Even at that price, though, it’s still only 6000 euros per household, to provide that household with clean and inexpensive passively generated electricity.

The British Wind Energy Association tells us that wave generators have the ability to displace 1-2 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year from conventional fossil fuel generating sources. The above paragraphs demonstrate that wave farms will be able to do far better than that. The biggest thing to gather from this article? Clean passive energy is not some far off futurescape. It’s possible, within our abilities now!

Power of Going With The Flow

Not a day goes by that some aspect of alternate power isn’t in the news, but it’s nearly always solar and wind turbine generators getting all of the attention. Meanwhile, companies like Verdant Power have quietly been going with the flow — the flow of water, that is. There are several reasons why hydro-generation isn’t getting the attention it deserves. The most obvious one is that it’s not seen. Hydro-electric generation occurs under water, so it’s not in anyone’s view. Other reasons include that government regulations are heavy on waters, especially those classified as Federal Waterways. It can take a lot of bureacratic wrangling to gain permission. Verdant Power had to spend something like two million dollars just to prove that their blades weren’t cutting up fish. (It would seem the fish were smarter than the bureaucrats, at least in this case.) And then there’s the simple reality that things corrode in water.

The rewards still far outway the dampers on hydro-electric generation. One reason is that water’s greater density allows it to generate a lot more electricity with the water’s currents than if the same turbine were in the air — hundreds of times as much. (Think in terms of hydrofoils, and how so small a piece of “wing” can lift a man right on up out of the water, and you’ll begin to see how much more powerful moving water can be.) And then there’s discretion. Situated under water pretty much dispenses of the “not in my back yard” opposition.

No one single alternate source may create enough energy to free us from fossil fuel dependence. It will take every resource we can conceive of to do that, and at least a little bit of redesigning the devices we use to be more efficient in their use of energy. Collectively, though, we can accomplish that independence. Hydro-electric generation most certainly has a much bigger place at that table than we’ve been giving it so far. It may be time to ask our legislators to clear the way for hydro-electric generation which does not involve damming up Federal Waterways. There’s a lot of power in going with the flow.
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Wave Power Generation Systems

Most of the emphasis these days is being placed on the latest solar and wind turbine systems to generate electricity.  Part of the reason for that is that hydro generation has traditionally meant dams closing off rivers, which is both expensive and disruptive to nature.  The Columbia River’s dams, for example, have taken major fire for that they interfere with salmon spawning.  Any time a dam is put up within a state, those downstream of it will be upset that their source of fresh water is controlled by those upstream.  The Rio Grand is a mere trickle of a stream by the time it gets to the Mexican border, and complaints about damming up the Colorado River are myriad and longstanding.  The bottom line is that this has given people the erroneous perception that hydro-generation isn’t feasible.  In this article, we’ll take a look at technologies that are entirely passive, and some new ideas that could generate considerable electricity by harnessing the power of the moon’s gravitational pull, tides and waves.

Wave power generation is not science fiction.  Scotland’s Islay Wave Power Generator has been working continuously for years. New technology holds even more promise, in the form of anchored systems which would ride just below the surface.  One such system, called the Anaconda, is boasting major production by harnessing wave motion, and can be placed well offshore. There are other sea-snake-type methods as well.

As early as 1970, methods of harnessing the ocean’s energy were already being put into motion. These were massive, ingenious and ambitious projects which relies upon the temperature differential between warm surface waters and the cold depths to drive the turbines. Unfortunately, the technologies of the time were not sufficient to the scale that the projects were built for, and they were not deemed cost-effective.Today’s techologies allow us to make far more responsive units, and to employ arrays of them rather than developing mammoth pipe systems such as OTEC-1. Some have even suggested using hydro-turbines very similar to surface wind turbines. New concepts in water wheels can generate electricity without damming up river waters. With so many methods and possibilities, hydro-electric solutions seem well worth investigating. The tremendous power of the ocean can easily move power generating turbines, and our technological abilities are now up to the task. Let us not forget these passive power harnesses as we move forward into non-combustion energy resources for our future.

Central American Countries Poised to Go Hydro

GristmillWhile many nations look at the best way to harness the sun and wind, Central American countries may be in a far better position to use water and gravity to generate their electricity.  Rainforest regions  with elevation very often have dramatic waterfalls.  Most of them have water flowing through them constantly, allowing the forces of nature to be harnessed to generate electricity.  Even the simplest of systems can produce vast amounts of power, as water’s weight allows higher gear ratios than wind. North Vietnam hydro generator harness

This is not a new concept.  Water has been used to push a paddle wheel for thousands of years.  Often this force would propel large geared wheels that could grind grain, for example, or even haul water back up to higher elevations.  But a generator would need none of the size, expense or maintenance.  Moreover, it can be used to provide ample and reliable off-grid power, enabling people to live well within forest canopies and in other desirable remote locations.

The technology does not need to be complex or elaborate.  In the extreme example found in the second picture, a stream’s energy is harnessed to a motorcycle’s alternator, providing a North Vietnamese village with power.  Below, we see a modern, compact hydro generator that would be used in such environments.

DoradoVista Micro Hydropower Generator

Of course, every piece of property will not have a fast stream or waterfall on it, but those which do could be made to generate electricity for others within the area.  Each little community could be entirely energy independent, and non-polluting.

Combined with Green building methods, the footprint would be nearly non-existent, and the costs negligible.  What a great way to get your creature comforts while living in paradise!

Tidal Energy-Alternate Power Source

Tidal Energy or tidal power, is created when the flow of water moves in the incoming and outgoing tide. There are two types of tidal energy that can be created for naturally created power. The first type is referred to as kinetic power. Its the energy generated as water moves in flowing rivers or ocean tides. Harnessing this kinetic tidal energy requires utilizing a turbine to produce the green energy. You can compare this process to the power generated by windmills, except there is water turning the turbine instead of wind.

This is a popular alternate energy because of the minimal impact on the surrounding ecology. In terms of harnessing hydro electricity it has much less impact than the building of dams. Nations around the world are looking toward their coastal areas to generate sustainable power via kinetic tidal power. The advantage is the consistent and predictable flow of water energy, as the tidal movement is a constant.

The efficiency of tidal energy depends on the tides rise and fall during the normal tidal cycle, dictated by the lunar cycle. Certain regions have a greater tidal swing, and all coastal areas experience varied tide heights throughout the monthly cycle. For optimal power generation a tidal energy facility needs to be place at the right location. In addition, the location needs to be located within a reasonable distance to a power collection facility so that the energy can be transferred to the grid for consumption. Read more

Micro Hydro Electric Power Generators-Alternative Energy

Micro hydroelectric power systems can be extremely beneficial to the entire environment, simply because neither the air nor the water is contaminated by pollutants.  These small hydroelectric applications generally require very little space to operate.  There are actually several different types of small water-powered generators which can operate using so little water, that they can actually be placed next to a small stream without ever needing a dam or a reservoir.  It is becoming increasingly apparent over the years just how important these micro hydro-powered systems are, because they are friendly to the environment and produce renewable energy.  As a result of this newfound understanding, many countries have begun to set up small hydroelectric power systems as a way to provide at least some if not all of their electricity.  These micro water powered generators have the capability of producing a large amount of electricity without harming the environment. Read more

Hydroelectric power-renewable energy source

water-splash.jpgPower can be harnessed from the energy found in water, which is one of the most common compounds on the entire earth.  More than seventy five percent of the earth is covered in water, a substance which is absolutely essential to life.  One of science’s major goals is to find water on other planets.  There are several different ways to harness the power found in water, including through water wheels and water turbines.  Waterwheels were involved with the first water-power harnessing process which was used for cutting stone and lumber mills.  Water energy harnessing is essentially attained by converting potential energy into kinetic energy using the power found in the flow of water.

Water energy is a completely renewable energy resource which is primarily harnessed through hydroelectric generation.  Water flows through a turbine which is then used in order to drive a generator.  The United States takes nearly ten percent of its total power from hydroelectric energy producing plants, making it one of the world leaders in the creation and use of hydroelectric power.  Because the price of oil is constantly increasing, more and more consumers are beginning to see and understand the benefits that come from water energy creation and hydroelectric plants.  There may be environmental impacts, and high costs for dam construction products, but many people are beginning to believe that the costs are worth the benefits involved, as our non-renewable energy sources begin to deplete over time.

Water energy was first harnessed using water wheels during classical times.  Lumber mills and stone cutting saws were easily powered by water energy.  Advances in gearing including the slip cam and the transverse axel made it possible for water wheels to be used for grain mills as well.

Water energy is actually the result of converting what is known as potential energy, into what is known as kinetic energy.  Potential energy can be acquired from water that is stored at a higher pressure level.  Water wheels or electrical turbines can both be used to help convert this energy into kinetic energy.  Hydroelectric power is fairly predictable because our rainfall patterns are generally fairly stable.  It does not require us to burn fossil fuels to create this renewable form of power and energy.  However, once a hydroelectric plant is built, its output cannot be increased or modified, because water energy power is determined by the weight of water as well as the rate of flow, and these factors cannot be changed later.

Water energy is an energy source which is clean and non-emitting, but there are environmental impacts that come with this type of energy creation.  For example, hydroelectric plants require the building of dams when they are created, and when reservoirs are created the local environment can be significantly impacted.  Hundreds of square miles can be flooded in the process.  For example, the Three Gorges Dam in China floods an area which is larger than the entire state of Nebraska to fill its reservoir.

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