Someone recently pointed out that while we’ve been discussing hydrokinetic energy’s advantages, ongoing development, and other talking points, they were still confused about what exactly hydrokinetic energy is.
Most simply, hydrokinetic energy is the power of moving water. Hydrokinetic turbines harness power from the motion of water, whether it comes from from waves, currents, canals, or any body of moving water. Hydrokinetic energy and wind power work similarly in that a turbine uses the flow of water, or air, to drive a rotor connected to a generator, producing power. As Hydrovolts puts it:
“It is produced by the kinetic or motion energy in a flowing fluid, just like wind power. It is not ‘traditional’ hydropower produced by the pressure of water created by vertical height, as in a dam. Hydrokinetic turbines operate without needing a dam — speed is all you need.”
This difference in how hydrokinetic technologies capture energy, allowing us to generate power without dams, saves us from having to build such expensive and environmentally harmful structures. And, unlike wind power, water is over 800 times denser than air, providing a reliable, predictable, highly concentrated, and largely untapped resource.
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) along with fellow founding partners NASA, the U.S.
Department of State, and NIKE, Inc. announced today the ten innovators selected
to participate in their LAUNCH: Energy challenge. LAUNCH is a unique initiative
formed to identify solutions to the world’s most urgent sustainability
challenges. The focus of this year’s challenge is energy, and the finalists have
been chosen for their groundbreaking ideas for the provision of more sustainable
energy sources and improved access to energy for both developed and developing
The LAUNCH program identifies innovations poised to create transformational
change in critical sustainability issues, connects innovators to thought leaders
and advisors, and then provides resources and guidance in order to accelerate
the implementation of the technologies and projects. The LAUNCH: Energy Forum,
which brings together innovators and council members, will take place at the
Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 11-13.
“Access to sustainable sources of energy is one of the 21st century’s
greatest challenges, and this group of innovators stands a real chance of making
a significant impact in meeting that challenge,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, Science
and Technology Adviser to the Administrator at USAID. “USAID is committed to
supporting visionary ideas in the energy sector. We look forward to working with
this remarkable group of people and to playing our part in accelerating their
The innovator organizations, the individuals representing them and their
innovations are listed below.
- Gram Power: Yashraj Khaitan – A micro/mini-grid solution
for underserved communities that utilizes modular battery storage technology,
energy management intelligence, and a pre-payment model.
- Hydrovolts: Burt Hamner – An affordable “Switchblade”
turbine and “Flipwing” turbine rotor that enables reliable hydroelectricity
generation from canals and other managed-flow water courses.
- Turbococina: Rene Nunez Suarez – A revolutionary clean and
efficient wood combustion cookstove.
- Point Source Power: Craig Jacobson – An economical fuel
cell for emerging markets that allows battery charging in cooking pits or fires.
- The Solanterns Initiative: Nina Marsalek – An initiative
dedicated to replacing 1 million of Kenya’s kerosene lanterns with solar powered
lights and to creating micro-entrepreneur jobs.
- Powerzoa: Jamie Simon – A smart system that allows
enterprise-level energy managers to automate control of energy down to the
appliance level, stopping power waste.
- Promethean Power Systems: Sorin Grama – A rural
refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and
partially electrified areas of developing countries.
- Thermofluidics: Mark Bryant – A pumping device that uses
low-temperature heat to generate fluid motion with very few moving parts.
- ITN Energy Systems: Ashutosh Misra – A revolutionary
flexible electrochromic film for windows that allows active control of the sun’s
transmitted light and heat.
- NanoTune Technologies: Frank Wang – A new generation
ultracapacitor with five to seven times greater energy storage capacity than
During the three day forum, innovators will discuss their proposed solutions
to energy issues with LAUNCH Council members, who represent the business,
investment, international development, policy, engineering, science,
communications and sustainability sectors. The sessions are designed to identify
key challenges and opportunities for the entrepreneurs’ innovations in an effort
to accelerate these transformative innovations into the world with impact and
Profiles of the innovators and their innovations can be found at www.launch.org . Real-time Forum information will
also be available on the website, while video of the innovators’ presentations
will be available soon after the forum. Interested members of the public can
watch portions of the Forum live online-please check www.launch.org near the
start of the forum for the UStream feed URL.
To learn more about LAUNCH, visit: www.launch.org
For more information about USAID, visit www.usaid.gov.
For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit: www.nasa.gov
For more information about the U.S. Department of State, visit www.state.gov
For more information about NIKE, visit www.nike.com
“Most people don’t realize that we have a lot of hydropower potential left in this country — particularly small hydro.
Amidst all the talk about increasing offshore drilling in the arctic, permitting massive renewable energy projects in remote areas, and building out expensive transmission lines around the country, we often forget about the simple things.
A few years back, I wrote an article asking if the U.S. was on the verge of a small hydropower boom. I’m sad to say that despite the myriad compelling reasons for developing small hydro projects around this country, we’re still in the same place we were when I wrote that story.
Why? Because we have a terrible regulatory framework in place.
A 2006 study put together by the Idaho National Laboratory found that we could feasibly develop up to 30,000 MW of small and “low-power” hydro projects (between 10 kilowatts and 30 megawatts) around the country. All of those projects could be run-of-river — meaning they don’t require any damming — or could be built on existing dams.
There are over 81,000 dams around the U.S. and only 2,400 of them have any electrical generating capacity. Many of the power-less 78,600 dams are close to existing infrastructure, making it easier to build and maintain a project compared with a centralized wind or solar farm located far away from where the electricity is used.
So while the government has focused heavily on streamlined permitting for centralized, large-scale renewable energy projects, almost nothing has been done for small hydro.
Due to regulatory morass, the U.S. is not a good place for small hydro companies to do business. In order to build even the smallest facilities, a developer must go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, State Environmental Departments, State Historic Preservation Departments, and many more. Each of these agencies is just doing their job — but the cumulative impact weighs down small hydro and makes projects prohibitively expensive.
“The regulatory environment is not friendly at all. It’s incredibly difficult and expensive to build these facilities,” explains Lori Barg, CEO of Community Hydro, a developer based in Vermont. “It’s absurd, really.”
Barg says that federal and state permitting can add up to $2,000 per kilowatt for projects under 1 MW. To put that in perspective: solar PV projects around 1 MW are being built today for about $3,000 a kW, including permitting, labor and equipment.
That needs to change. It’s an embarrassment that we still haven’t fixed this problem.
A bill introduced by Republican Congressman Adrian Smith is a great start. The Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act, which passed quietly out of the House Natural Resources Committee at the beginning of this month, will exempt all projects smaller than 1.5 MW on non-federally owned conduits from FERC licensing requirements.
“This is a great targeted solution for a particular set of hydropower projects that could spark a tremendous increase in facilities under 1 MW,” explains Jeff Leahey, director of government affairs for the National Hydropower Association. “If you can take those out of the FERC process and put those at the states, it will significantly reduce costs.”
Consistent with the slow-moving process for small hydro, the bill now needs pass through two more committees — the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
On the Senate side, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski recently re-introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act that would streamline permitting of hydro projects on existing dams and create a competitive grant program for developers. It also expands R&D for new hydro technologies.
NHA hopes to find a way to combine both bills and pass something with bi-partisan support this year.
“We keep telling lawmakers that there’s tremendous growth potential in the industry. We are far from tapped out. We can access existing infrastructure today and build tens of thousands of megawatts in communities around the country. We consider that low-hanging fruit,” explains Leahey.
Harnessing the full potential of small-scale, local hydropower could actually be pretty easy – all possible without having to deploy massive clean-up efforts, making environmental major trade-offs, or facing stiff local opposition. But we have to get our act together on permitting.
Considering all the other major problems Congress is dealing with, this should be a very easy fix.”