Portland, Oregon has started using something called toilet turbines as a source of renewable energy, and it's one of those ideas that makes everyone slap their forehead and say, "of course!"
The idea behind the concept of a toilet turbine is remarkably simple. The turbines are installed in water pipes where water is running downhill. Utilizing gravity and water pressure, the turbines turn when water rushes past. Hence, whenever there is water discharge, such as when the citizens of Portland flush their toilets, the turbines turn and produce electricity.
Gregg Semier, CEO of Lucid Energy, invented the toilet turbine and convinced Portland, Oregon to give it a try. In the small pilot program, the electricity generated by the turbines has already paid for the project itself. Semier says that he's following his dream of "helping water become more sustainable" by developing the toilet turbines and what he calls a "smart piping system."
In addition to providing energy whenever someone flushes a toilet or runs a faucet, the toilet turbines also have state of the art sensors to detect changes in water pressure. This assists the Portland waterworks in keeping pipes from bursting, and also provides the ability to detect if drinking water has become contaminated.
Usually when renewable sources of energy are tapped into by a community, large hydroelectric dams have to be built at a large upfront cost. The dams can have a negative effect on existing water ecosystems, and if attention isn't paid to aesthetics, they can be an eyesore and drive down property values. When wind energy is tapped into, thousands of acres of enormous windmills are erected that at the very least damage the aesthetics of the landscape. The toilet turbine, however, bypasses all of that. They are relatively cheap to build and install, and they're out of sight. Many residents of Portland probably have no idea that when they run a faucet or flush a toilet that they are helping to manufacture power for their city.
About the environmental impact of his toilet turbine, Gregg Semier was very excited.
"It's pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there's no environmental impact. But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That's what's exciting."
"We have a project in Riverside, California, where they're using it to power streetlights at night. During the day, when electricity prices are high, they can use it to offset some of their operating costs."