Renewable Energy Under City Streets: Generating Power from City Water Pipes

As cities focus on renewable energy sources while mapping out a resourceful urban future, there are some cities that take resourcefulness to a new level, generating hydropower from the water running through urban water infrastructure systems.

“A Portland water pipeline is now producing enough electricity to power more than a hundred homes.”

With that opening line of a recent news story, residents of Portland, Oregon realized there was more going on beneath their city’s streets than most were aware of.

Portland-based Lucid Energy leverages additional capacity from municipal water systems. Their LucidPipe system applies the same principles of hydroelectric dams to urban water systems, generating power from the movement of water through the city’s pipes.

“All we’re doing is recapturing energy that exists inside these pipelines,” says Lucid Energy CEO Gregg Semler.

Hydropower LucidPipe Render photo credit Bjorn Sorenson.
LucidPipe Render photo credit Bjorn Sorenson.

The company describes their LucidPipe system as an “in-pipe hydropower production” unit that harnesses the force of the water and converts it into energy. The Lucid Energy team originally explored more traditional sources of hydropower, looking at ways to capture energy from small sources of moving water such as streams. Such sources can have unpredictable flows, and installing hydropower equipment can be environmentally damaging. Municipal water pipes, however, are predictable in flow and receptive to new equipment installation.

“What’s really interesting about Lucid is this is a new source of energy that’s never really been tapped into before,” Semler told the Think Progress blog. “You take the best of hydroelectricity and put it in the pipe.”

While LucidPipes apply the same renewable energy principles as hydro and wind power to propel their turbines in city waterlines, their energy production system is even more environmentally sound than hydropower dams and wind turbines. No fish or birds are harmed by the equipment, as can happen with other sources of water and wind energy production.

The technology also represents an opportunity for energy self-sufficiency in cities – infrastructure can be used as a means to generate power that can be returned straight to the system, rather than bringing energy in from other sources to power the urban grid.

“This is a new source of energy that’s never really been tapped into before. You take the best of hydroelectricity and put it in the pipe.” – Gregg Semler, Lucid Energy.  LucidPipe | Portland, Oregon | Lucid Energy

This project and 43 others from 17 countries of are featured in the Reprogramming the City book!