I read a article (see below) recently about the state of the river dams in the US. The article quoted a number of something like 80,000 large dams. Article on Old Dams The author seems quite concerned in the wake of Katrina about the safety and replacement of aging dams. With good reason, as dating back to the 1800s Johnstown Dam disaster in Pennsylvania, aging dams have been a major concern in the US. The article is talking mainly about large dams, but it got me to thinking, if there is a similar issue in small dams as well, perhaps there is an opportunity to increase renewable energy production at a fairly low environmental cost by expanding small scale hydro.
A bit of power history for those of us who don’t think about it often, but for centuries, the major non-animal source of power was small scale hydro power, driving mechanical works, grain mills etc. The advent of electricity and fossil fuel generation, of course, replaced that in the early part of the last century.
Hydro power is by far and away the world’s biggest source of renewable electric power. But the primary knock today on hydro development as a major new renewable source is the large environmental footprint required. At the same time, just like wind turbine blade technology has advanced the efficiency of wind farms, water turbine blade technology as advanced the efficiency of hydro, including small scale.
For those of you interested, I’ve listed a few of micro hydro turbine manufacturers and information about a wide range of sizes below.
I do know that there are several small companies, including Southwest WindPower, which is venture backed by the guys at Altira, who are helping drive a renaissance in small wind turbines for home use. And while I know the likelihood of a similar renaissance in distributed hydro ever taking off is extremely small, aging dams or not, it’s always fun to think about.