Small Hydro Power, Solar Energy Project, and Other Energy News

This installment of an ongoing energy news feature includes stories on the return of small hydro power electric generators and a solar energy project serving the Papago Indian tribe in Arizona.

| September/October 1978


Rising fossil fuel prices have made small hydro power plants economically viable again.


The following energy news items were drawn from multiple sources.

Small Hydro Power Returns

Small-hydro power is on the way back. Many of America's 50,000 dams once generated electricity, but most were abandoned as energy producers during the heyday of cheap fossil fuels. Now that oil prices are higher, however, the small hydroelectric plants can, once again, provide economical power. The U.S. Department of Energy has received proposals to develop 50 separate plants of less than fifteen megawatts, and hopes to have 1,500 Mw of this "water power" in operation by 1985.

Solar Energy Project

A government-sponsored solar energy project will bring electricity to the Schuchuli (Arizona) village of the Papago Indian tribe. The federally funded power system will use photovoltaic (PV) sunlight conversion to light the settlement's fifteen homes. Solar power will also run the group's communal refrigerator, wringer washer, and sewing machine. The entire energy consumption of the "town" will be less than 75% of that used by a typical U.S. urban family over the same period.

Industrial Wood Furnace

A wood furnace for small industry has been developed by Paul Kalenian of Massachusetts. The heater—designed to use green and/or scrap lumber—burns with an impressive 90% efficiency and heats for half the cost of an equivalent oil-burner. Paul is optimistic about his future. "After all," he says, "the energy situation is only going to get worse."

Alternative Energy Policy

"Energy policy as if it really mattered," a new report from the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service, advocates extensive federal procurement of alternative energy systems. The study states, for instance, that the U.S. could save eight million barrels of oil a year if half the federal motor-vehicle fleet were composed of electric cars. Copies of this report—which also calls for government purchases to "enlarge and underwrite" the market for alternative energy sources—are available from Rep. John Dingell.

Electrodeless Fluorescent Lamp

An electrodeless fluorescent light bulb, developed by theoretical physicist Donald Hollister, can produce nearly as much light as a standard 100-watt bulb using only eighteen watts! Hollister has approached the major electrical equipment manufacturers with his invention and found a marked lack of interest. The physicist isn't surprised. "If I had a 'cash cow,' I wouldn't want it to go dry," he says.

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