Hydropower utilizes the kinetic energy of flowing water to spin turbines and generate electricity. As of 2017, hydropower comprised roughly 7.5% of the energy production in the United States, and hydropower provides electricity to nearly 60% of homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

Jess Dam and Lost Creek Reservoir in Oregon

Some of the more well-known hydro power production facilities include the Hoover Dam outside of Las Vegas, and the Shasta Dam in northern California. The Shasta Dam was originally created to prevent flooding and manage irrigation water flow throughout California, while the electricity production was a secondary objective.

Shasta Dam in Northern California

In-stream hydro (also known as “low impact hydro”) describes the practice of submerging turbines within a river or stream to capture energy (picture an underwater wind turbine). This approach is considered less environmentally harmful since no new reservoirs are created (as with the grand dams) and wildlife impacts are minimal in comparison. This technology is particularly attractive in remote areas that currently use expensive and dirty diesel generators for electricity (rural Alaska for example). In fact, Alaska is one of the areas in the United States with the greatest potential for in-stream hydro energy, along with Mississippi, the Pacific Northwest, Ohio, and Missouri.

Turbines Inside the Shasta Dam Power House

An innovative technology known as “conduit hydropower” is being used in Portland Oregon, which consists of placing 3.5 foot wide turbines inside underground city water mains to produce electricity without harming the water flow.

A Peek into the Future: Conduit Hydropower

Actions You Can Take Today:

  • Purchase carbon offsets from a provider with in-stream hydroelectric projects in their portfolio, such as Gold Standard (which lets you choose your carbon reduction project)
  • If you have a flowing stream on your home or business property, consider reaching out to a company like Sugar Hollow Solar to learn more about harnessing the energy with a small turbine

Related LEED® v4 Credits:

  • LEED BD+C, EAc Renewable Energy Production (1-3 pts)