Manmade Waterways Could Be Harnessed for Power Generation
Aiding President Obama’s initiative to generate 80 percent of U.S. power from clean energy sources by 2035, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation released a study, Hydropower Resource Assessment at Existing Reclamation Facilities, on the hydroelectric power generation potential of 530 of its federally-owned waterways (dams, canals, pipelines, and irrigation tunnels). As the largest wholesaler of water in the country, the Bureau of Reclamation provides water to more than 31 million people, and one out of five Western farmers depend on the Bureau’s services for irrigation water. At the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western U.S. The study identifies the Bureau’s waterways with the most hydroelectric power potential to meet growing energy demands.
Using data from Hydromet (a network of automated hydrologic and meteorological monitoring stations); the USGS Water Data; a previous study; The Water and Power Resources Service Project Data Book; Reclamation Area Office and Irrigation District records; and local staff knowledge; the study creates a preliminary picture of the potential energy that might be harnessed from Bureau of Reclamation’s water distribution projects. The study also includes an analysis of water flows, different hydroelectric turbine types, green incentives (both federal and state issued), costs of electric transmission lines, and constraints on development regarding land use.
While Reclamation currently generates over 40 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric energy at existing facilities, this new study revealed that 191 water conduits, stretching across 17 western states, have potential to serve as additional sources for power generation. The study determined that 1.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity could be generated every year by simply placing a turbine in the water flowing from their assorted water conveyance systems. This would be equivalent to the energy produced from one coal power plant.
The study serves as a guide for municipalities and private developers looking to invest in power generation from Bureau of Reclamation facilities. The results highlight particular locations that might be economically worth-while for further examination and areas that can be ruled out. The study also produced the Hydropower Assessment Tool, which helps identify hydropower potential in existing waterways. This tool is available on their website, and allows developers to use a few measurements to quickly rule out areas for incapable of producing hydroelectric power.