An energy recapture device saves Summit County ratepayers $300k annually
The Mountain Regional Water Special Service District provides water to thousands of Summit County residents, maintaining miles of pipes, storage tanks that hold millions of gallons and all the valves and pumps that make the system work.
They serve customers at many elevations, pumping water up and down hills from wells to storage tanks and homes. Doug Evans, a former general manager and chief technical officer of the district, said he always thought about that wasted energy.
“We pump so much into Promontory — up one hill, down into the (Snyderville) Basin,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how much energy it takes to live on a mountain.”
So when designing the Silver Creek pump station expansion a couple of years ago, the district incorporated one seemingly simple design element that Evans estimated saves the district about $300,000 annually.
And it cost less than $30,000 to install.
The water coming downhill from a well near Promontory now spins a turbine on the way into two massive holding tanks at the pump station. That turbine produces roughly enough energy to power the pumps that are used to pressurize that water and put it back into the system when it’s needed.
Chris Braun, the district’s chief technical officer, said the turbine generates about 70 kilowatts and offsets 80%-90% of the pump station’s energy use.
“Doug’s wanted to do it forever,” he said. “Normally, when you’re bringing water from higher up, you just open a valve. This one is different in that we didn’t want to waste that (potential) energy.”
Evans said the system essentially uses gravity as a battery, taking the energy from water flowing downhill and converting it to electricity.
He added that a similar system is planned for Park City Municipal’s new 3Kings water treatment plant.
The electricity flows back into Rocky Mountain Power’s grid, offsetting most of the site’s energy use. Evans said Obama-era rule changes regarding hydroelectric power made it much easier for the plan to be approved.
Still, safety mechanisms are paramount, as the system has to be able to turn off in milliseconds if there’s a problem with the grid.
Plans call for solar panels to be installed on top of the storage tanks in the future to completely offset the station’s energy use, and there’s room in the facility for future expansion. Evans said that conduits for future solar arrays were installed when the station was built.
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