Enterprising energy innovators never tire of coming up with unlikely new locations for power generation – on highways, in roof tiles, at the end of a kite string – with mixed results. Now there’s a start-up producing electrons from municipal water pipes.

Gregg Semler, an entrepreneur with a background in fuel cells, has been working to make power plants in water pipes a reality for about 10 years. His latest venture, InPipe Energy, has finally put the idea into practice in the city of Hillsboro, Oregon.

With funding from Energy Trust of Oregon and Portland General Electric, InPipe has installed its In-PRV (pressure recovery valve) system on a city water pipeline, generating clean electricity for the city’s lighting, electric vehicle infrastructure and concessions at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex.

The In-PRV system is designed to be installed on existing water infrastructure that is fitted with control valves to regulate water pressure, producing waste heat. It bypasses the control valves, providing precision pressure control while also generating zero carbon electricity.

“As a growing city, we’re excited to pioneer this very practical new form of renewable energy that will help us continue to meet our climate action goals and build resilience,” said Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway.

The Hillsboro In-Pipe Hydroelectric Project came at a cost of $509,000 and is expected to generate between 185,000 and 200,000 kWh a year. Some 70% of the cost is being funded through grants from PGE and Energy Trust of Oregon, with the balance coming from the city, which expects to make its investment back through reduced costs in two to three years.

As a bonus, the technology is expected to save water and extend the life of the pipeline itself.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our water operations and reduce costs for our ratepayers,” said Eric Hielema, the engineering manager for the city’s water department. “This technology provides us with a solution to help us precisely manage pressure while also producing renewable energy.”

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