Generating loads of electricity from moving water might soon shift away from the province of behemoth structures like Washington’s Grand Coulee and China’s Three Gorges dams.
Over the last few years, researchers and industry have been chalking up successes developing small-scale, distributed hydroelectric generators to potentially replace their massive forebears, whose footprint causes major disturbances in the environment and communities nearby. These emerging technologies, collectively called hydrokinetics, can turn moving water in rivers, manmade spillways and ocean tides into electricity that gets pumped into power grids.
“For new projects that need to be started, small hydrokinetic distributed networks should be considered as a viable candidate against big dams or other major power production projects,” says Diana Marculescu, a Carnegie Mellon University computer and electrical engineering professor who works in hydrokinetics. “In the long term, these distributed generation projects can become a serious alternative to large-scale hydroelectric, especially in the developing world, where increase in demand will be much larger.”