CLEANTECH: Spinning the Pipeline

By Published On: March 26, 2010

He spun upside down and all around while inside a large gyro-scope like machine, called the Orbitron. That is the memory of my first date with my now spouse. The flashback came while reading about an experimental, tiny, Orbitron, which uses water power instead of people power. Riverside Public Utilities agreed in late February to be the first utility in the country to test out capturing energy via a gyroscope-shaped device installed in a section of pipe that conveys water from San Bernardino to the City of Riverside. Inside a car-length section of a new water conveyance pipe, which is 48 inches wide at its head and narrows down to 42 inches, is a multi-bladed turbine that is spun by the water flow. It’s designed to capture the energy of the moving water. The spinning turbine is estimated to capture between 2 and 7 kilowatts of energy, depending on the velocity of the flow, said Austin Carter, Riverside muni spokesperson. According to the developer, Northwest PowerPipe, the “in conduit” turbine technology would enable large water users--including agencies, farmers and industry-- to generate electricity and revenue by capturing excess head pressure used in the pipeline operations. For the last few weeks the in-pipe turbine’s output generated inside Riverside’s water pipe has been undergoing testing. According to a Northwest PowerPipe spokesperson, the company is still gathering numbers and crunching them. If the outcome is favorable, the plan is to hook the spinning turbine to power lines for at least a year. It is expected to provide enough power to push some of the water supply uphill, said Carter. “We have high hopes that this is the first step towards utilizing already-existing municipal infrastructure to create energy for our customers,” said Riverside general manager David Wright.

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