Minnesota Turbine

When I was a kid, annoyed at the destruction of the environment, I proposed to my elders that instead of building a dam, you could just sink a big turbine into a river and get some electricity that way. The adults explained why this was impossible.

Kids: Ignore the adults. From Wired:

The nation’s first commercial hydrokinetic turbine, which harnesses the power from moving water without the construction of a dam, has splashed into the waters of the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minnesota.

The 35-kilowatt turbine is positioned downstream from an existing hydroelectric-plant dam and — together with another turbine to be installed soon — will increase the capacity of the plant by more than 5 percent. The numbers aren’t big, but the rig’s installation could be the start of an important trend in green energy.

And that could mean more of these “wind turbines for the water” will be generating clean energy soon.

Comments

  1. #1 Robert Bruce Thompson
    December 23, 2008

    Yeah, right. That honking great turbine produces a massive 35 kilowatts, which is about three orders of magnitude smaller than what a hydroelectric dam provides. I know people with emergency home genertors that produce more power. If you’re going to get useful energy from water, it has to have a head, and the larger the better.

    Let’s see, at (say) 10 cents per kW/h, that massive turbine produces about $3.50 worth of electricity per hour, or $84/day or $30,660/year. Even assuming a 20-year service life, which is unlikely, and zero maintenance costs, which is extremely unlikely, given the cost of money and the rate of return investors would be looking for on such a project, it’d have to cost less than $150K to build and install this thing, which doesn’t look likely.

    And what about the environmental effects of plunking these things into rivers? Even discounting the altered flow patterns, what happens to waterlife?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    December 23, 2008

    That honking great turbine produces a massive 35 kilowatts, which is about three orders of magnitude smaller than what a hydroelectric dam provides.

    At five orders of magnitude less in cost. Good deal!

    Bottom line: This plus a second similar device going in later at this location is going to increase the output of the existing hydro dam by five percent. I’m not sure why a five percent increase in out put is a bad thing.

    Bob: I think you just don’t like change! Even spare change!

  3. #3 Ben Zvan
    December 23, 2008

    There’s a similar system installed in Ireland that could produce 1.2MW at full capacity and a new method from UMich.

  4. #4 John J. McKay
    December 23, 2008

    Let’s see:

    It produces electricity cheaper than a dam. That’s good.

    It doesn’t flood land that could be used for nature, farming, or homes. That’s good.

    It doesn’t present an obstruction to migrating fish, like salmon. That’s good.

    It’s feasible in a heck of a lot more places than a dam. That’s good.

    It puts power generation closer to power consumers, reducing the cost of distribution. That’s good.

    Bob’s right, it’s a stupid idea.

  5. #5 Robert Bruce Thompson
    December 23, 2008

    Oh, yeah. Cheaper than a dam. Uh-huh. We could actually use these things to replace all current methods of electric power generation. Unless the idea of building and deploying about a million of them gives you pause, and, of course if you think it’d be good for electric power to cost a couple bucks a kW/h. Then, of course, there’s distribution, which you seem blissfully unaware of.

    Jerry Pournelle has it right. He proposes spending $100 billion to build 100 new nuclear power plants on a standardized plan. Like most of us, presumbably including you, Pournelle thinks it’s stupid to burn what should be chemical feedstocks, not because of any imaginary contribution of carbon dioxide to the imaginary anthropogenic global warming “problem”, but because there are better uses for petroleum and natural gas.

    These micro-version hydroelectric generators have the same problem as most of the supposedly environmentally-friendly alternatives. They’re too small-scale to be economically feasible.

  6. #6 Jim Thomerson
    December 23, 2008

    I worked on a hydroelectric project on the Mississippi. The project was an add-on to a lock and dam under construction. It was run of the river. Anytime there was less than eight feet of head, the plant would shut down. So during high river stages, when the tail race came up, there would be no generation. Project really looked good, but Ronald Regan took the Army Corps of Engineers out of the hydropower construction business and shut it down.

  7. #7 Kevin
    December 23, 2008

    Robert Bruce Thompson: Wow. You almost had me there until “imaginary”. It’d be great if you put that bit in every one of your posts. Makes it easier to weed out the chaff, if you know what I mean.

    -kevin

  8. #8 CS
    December 23, 2008

    At five orders of magnitude less in cost. Good deal!

    I couldn’t find the cost for these things anywhere. How much is one of these things?

    By the way, it would take 60,000 of these to match Hoover Dam’s generating capacity.

  9. #9 Moopheus
    December 23, 2008

    “Jerry Pournelle has it right.”

    There’s a sentence that has no meaning in English.

  10. #10 Beowulff
    December 24, 2008

    There is a legitimate discussion possible about whether such a river turbine is more cost-effective than, say, solar or wind energy, but to say it’d be less cost-effective than building a new dam just makes one sound ridiculous.

  11. #11 Paul Lundgren
    December 24, 2008

    Are we talking about the same Jerry Pournelle who’s Larry Niven’s longtime sci-fi collaborator?

  12. #12 Stephanie Z
    December 24, 2008

    The one who supported Star Wars, isn’t so sure about humans contributing to global warming, and thinks that ID is less objectionable than welfare? Yeah, that’s the guy.

  13. #13 Robert Bruce Thompson
    December 24, 2008

    Yeah, that’s him. We’ve been friends for twenty years, despite our major differences politically.

    As to Star Wars, Jerry believes it’s important not just to provide ballistic missile defense but to get the infrastructure in place for the US to become a true space-faring nation and to make solar power satellites a reality. I agree with him about all of those.

    As to global warming, Jerry accepts that it may be occurring, at least relative to the Maunder Minimum, but states that we have zero evidence that any warming is anthropogenic. He advocates gathering data for Bayesian analysis before committing to spending huge sums to address a problem that may not exist and destroying what remains of our economy.

    I go further than Jerry on this. I’ve looked at a lot of data, and it appears to me that we’re entering a period of global cooling. We’re long overdue for an ice age, and everything indicates that we’re heading in that direction. A significant majority of scientists agree that global warming is not occurring, or that if it is it is at most a trivial warming that is likely to improve life rather than harm it.

    The vast majority of the scientists who support the global warming hysteria are economically invested in it to the extent that they use models known not to be predictive and even alter data to support their position.

    As to ID, yes Jerry is a devout Catholic and has made statements supporting it. As a libertarian atheist scientist, I’ve had long-running discussions with Jerry about this. He’s enough of a scientist to admit that evolution is accepted as a done deal by all real scientists and that ID is unfalsifiable and therefore not a real alternative hypothesis, let alone a theory. Basically, I’d summarize Jerry’s position on ID as that he’d like it to be true but knows it isn’t.

  14. #14 Stephanie Z
    December 24, 2008

    Yes, everyone I know who’s met Jerry thinks he’s a great guy. However, he does have a tendency to believe things because he wants to believe them (SDI, ID, no AGW) and to favor big, showy, high-tech solutions (SDI, space-based solar power collectors).

    I really appreciate his opposition to, shall we say, land wars in Asia and agree with him that energy independence is both a good idea and a security issue. But big, centralized power generation is also a security issue. Single-point systemic vulnerability is just bad design. One of the beauties of these “inefficient” power generation designs is that failure of one component doesn’t have a major effect on the capabilities of the rest of the system.

  15. #15 Robert Bruce Thompson
    December 24, 2008

    You say on your blog, “My favorite kind of lie is the one that tells most but not all of the truth.”

    I have to agree with Robert A. Heinlein that that’s the second-best kind of lie. The best kind is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but tell it in such a way that no one believes you.

    Unfortunately, Hansen and the rest of those who are pushing AGW so hard aren’t so elegant. They’re self-interested politicians, not scientists, and they simply flat-out lie. (See, for example, the “hockey stick” affair.) Their behavior tarnishes science, and damages it by violating the penultimate directive: you do not publish data which you know to be untrue or misleading. Worse, they violate the prime directive by making up data to support their position. And that’s simply unacceptable to any scientist who’s aware of what’s going on.

    If Greg, for example, or you, publishes a paper, I may disagree with the methodology or conclusions, but the thought would never even cross my mind that either of you made up data or cherry-picked it to support your position. Science is based on our trust as scientists in other scientists to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Once that trust is violated, the consequences are enormous.

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    December 24, 2008

    Robert, the best kind of lie is the pointless one, the one told for the sheer art of lying. I call this “fiction.”

    As much as I would love to oblige you in your quest for an argument about AGW, I will have to leave that to someone else today. I have places to be, and it’s hardly my field. However, I will note that theorizing a conspiracy on the order of magnitude required to cover the evidence for AGW is getting into someone else’s territory.

  17. #17 Azkyroth
    December 24, 2008

    A significant majority of scientists agree that global warming is not occurring, or that if it is it is at most a trivial warming that is likely to improve life rather than harm it.

    [Citation needed]

  18. #18 sailor
    December 25, 2008

    “I go further than Jerry on this. I’ve looked at a lot of data, and it appears to me that we’re entering a period of global cooling. We’re long overdue for an ice age, and everything indicates that we’re heading in that direction.”
    Yeah, it is that shit load of cooling that is melting all the ice in the arctic I guess.

  19. #19 eddie
    December 25, 2008

    Hark! The first nutjob of spring.

    Re Kevin;

    Wow. You almost had me there until “imaginary”.

    Sorry, mate, but you must be slipping. We spotted this;

    Uh-huh. We could actually use these things to replace all current methods of electric power generation.

    strawman much quicker.

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