Turbines Could Tap the Mississippi's Power  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Technology Review has a look at a proposal to tap the Mississippi river for hydro power - Turbines Could Tap the Mississippi's Power.

Tens of thousands of turbines anchored to the bottom of the Mississippi River could someday provide more than a gigawatt of renewable energy, enough to power a quarter of a million homes. That's the vision of Free Flow Power, a startup based in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that recently received preliminary permits from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granting it the right to explore energy production at dozens of sites along the lower Mississippi over the next three years.

The proposed development is one of a number of "hydrokinetic" projects in the works. Such projects seek to generate electricity from wave movement, tidal flows, or river currents, without the use of dams.

The ambitious Mississippi project, however, relies on relatively unproven technology. The only commercial hydrokinetic river-power system operating in the U.S. is a single turbine deployed by Hydro Green Energy close to a conventional hydropower dam on the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota.

Free Flow hopes to deploy hydrokinetic power on an unprecedented scale: hundreds of 40-kilowatt turbines, each the size and shape of a large jet engine and attached to pylons jutting out from the riverbed at 88 locations along the Mississippi.
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Although most companies developing hydrokinetic technology have focused on tidal or wave energy, Free Flow's chief financial officer, Henry Dormitzer, argues that river power has distinct advantages. "The water flows in one direction, it doesn't have salt in it, and, in the case of the Mississippi, people have spent 100 years tracking water flows and velocities," he says. ...

A 2007 study by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, predicted that the U.S. could develop three gigawatts of hydrokinetic power from rivers by 2025. That's the equivalent of roughly two new nuclear power plants. "There is no question the potential for hydrokinetic river power is huge, but this industry is so young, it's very hard to say how economically viable it will be," says Andrea Copping, a senior program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Sequim, Washington.

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