Generating hydropower in Denver’s canals

Global Business

Generating hydropower in Denver's canals

It’s one of the oldest and, some say, most reliable forms of renewable energy. Hydroelectric power is usually associated with dams or reservoirs where large volumes of water are converted into electricity.

But soon, more and more hydropower could be generated in places like slow-moving canals.

CGTN’s Hendrick Sybrandy reports from Colorado. 

“We see a paradigm shift in the way that power’s going to be delivered in the 21st century,” said Emily Morris, Founder and C.E.O. of Emrgy. Her Atlanta, Georgia startup manufactures portable, modular, stand-alone hydropower turbines.

Several months ago, the utility Denver Water lowered the first of ten turbines it purchased from Emrgy into a shallow canal connecting Colorado’s Gross Dam and Ralston Reservoir.

“As water flows through that box,” said Morris during the operation, “it causes the twin turbines to turn and that activates a proprietary gearing and drive system that we have.”

Each 10 kilowatt unit is capable of producing 88 megawatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power seven U.S. homes.

“We already have hydropower at quite a few of our dam sites and we’re looking to the future to be able to expand our hydroelectric capabilities and this really is the forefront of that effort,” said Denver Water’s Ian Oliver.

The utility has 120 kilometers of canals flowing within its system. It considers them an untapped resource that could add to its energy mix and help pay for its power needs.

“It makes sense,” said Rob Ettema, Professor Civil Engineering at Colorado State University. “There’s water flowing through. There’s power available at small scale. The cost of installing a couple of the turbines such as shown seems to be not that great.”

Emrgy’s turbine array, which costs 300,000 dollars and should be completely installed by the end of summer, is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

“Our goal is to preserve the attributes that are beloved about hydropower, meaning its reliability, its predictability and its availability,” Morris said. But at the same time, she added, make it quicker and easier to deploy.

Her company is working with other utilities and commercial customers and has its eyes on the rest of the world, too.

“Being able to use these modules to really deliver meaningful power to an energy-hungry world is our strategy,” said Morris.

Denver Water said canal hydropower offers a low-maintenance and low impact option at a time when every drop and every kilowatt counts.

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo speaks to Greg Characklis, Philip C. Singer Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about the future of hydropower.