Think of it as a little tiny hydropower plant. Lucid Energy of Portland, Ore., has come up with a five-blade turbine that can be installed inside a water pipe, generating electricity as the water flows toward homes and businesses.

Lucid President and CEO Gregg Semler told the Portland Tribune that the payback on the cost of installing one of the company’s systems, without figuring in government subsidies, is three to four times better than solar or wind installations. And, unlike with traditional hydropower, there’s no threat to local ecosystems.

The company has been working with Northwest Pipe Co. and other vendors to commercialize the technology. Among the first installations are three in Portland that Lucid says will power as many as 300 homes in the city.

The turbines can be installed in large water pipelines that run downhill, using the fast-moving water to produce a consistent supply of electricity. They can operate in pipes between 24 and 96 inches in diameter in agricultural, industrial and municipal settings.

Water utilities can install the turbines when they replace pipes in their regular course of repair and maintenance work. Four turbines on one stretch of pipe could power 100 homes, Semler said. One challenge for the company is convincing utilities that the turbines won’t reduce water pressure or otherwise cause trouble for the water system.

The company started its first test installations in 2009 thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It installed its first commercial version in Riverside, Calif. this January. Since then, the company has opened a Center of Excellence in Riverside to showcase the technology. It plans to build two more centers in San Antonio, Texas and New York State.

Lucid began in 2007 with a focus on a system for producing hydropower in rivers without harming fish. When that technology didn’t pan out, it started working on the in-pipe systems.

Main image credit: Lucid Energy