Turbo-Charging the Energy Grid...with Fish?
Several years ago, the Dept. of Energy issued a report looking at the energy potential of the many non-powered dams in the US. With hydropower being a non-carbon emitting source of clean energy, it only makes sense to look at what we already have and improve upon it.
Many companies have seen this as an opportunity to acquire some of the more than 80,000 non-powered dams and take them through the licensing process only to find that other obstacles sometimes arise. One of these comes from an unexpected source: the requirement for fish passage. The requirement to add a fish ladder or similar system can add millions to the cost of a project, often then moving that clean-power project out of the category of economic viability.
Even for dams that already have power generation, producers can gain 5-10% more clean power production on their dams by not having to use water for a ladder. If one were to view the existing 2500 or so power-producing dams as an engine for the country (and they are), adding a method that allows you to squeeze an extra 5-10% more clean power is like adding a turbocharger to that engine.
All of this is not to say that the fish are not important – they are – and that’s exactly why innovation has come along that vastly improves conditions for them. The nice side effect is that more clean power can now be produced because of it, whether that be powering a non-powered dam or optimizing an existing hydropower facility with extra water. Collectively, such innovation that has simultaneous environmental and clean energy benefits should be easy to embrace. Indeed, the Department of Energy seems to be forward-looking in seeking ways to add clean power to the grid. Our various other regulatory agencies, each of which have their own mission, must all be similarly forward-looking in embracing and supporting innovation.
We all regularly embrace technological solutions. For example, as a teenager, I had a cassette deck in my car. I no longer do because technology has evolved. Times change, and creative solutions come forth. For declining numbers of migratory fish, however, we do not have time to waste - our environment, food supply and our livelihoods depend on it.