The Power of Innovative Thinking
How two world-class companies are partnering together to help drive renewable energy forward
A GLOBAL POWER CRISIS - There is an estimated 7.5 billion people living in the world today. That’s 7.5 billion people pulling at Earth’s energy resources day in and day out. And that population isn’t getting smaller anytime soon—some estimates have us reaching 8 billion in just 6 more years. With enormous developing nations like China and India, the future global economy will undoubtedly consume significantly more energy than ever before. Yet we’re already seeing the toll that energy demand is placing on our climate and the long-term sustainability of the planet.
Global power crisis
Today, we rely on coal, oil, and gas—also known as fossil fuels—for more than 80% of our energy needs. And that need is expected to grow by almost half over the next 20 years. We’re at a crossroads in the global energy crisis, one in which we must decide if we’ll continue producing fossil fuels to the detriment of the planet or turn to renewable energy to meet the rising demand.
"We’re at crossroads in the global energy crisis, on in which we must decide if we’ll continue producing fossil fuels to the detriment of the plant or turn to renewable energy to meet the rising demand"
A solution with a problem
By definition, renewable energy is energy that comes from sustainable, clean sources—like the sun, wind, plants, and water. According to the Institute for Energy Research, “About 9.9 percent of all energy consumed in the United States in 2015 was from renewable sources.” And even though that doesn’t seem like much, it’s enough to place the United States as the world’s largest consumer of renewable energy from geothermal, solar, wood, wind, and waste for electric power generation—producing 22% of the world’s total.
With more than 90% of our energy coming from non-renewable sources, there’s plenty of room for renewable growth. So what’s the easiest place to start? Hydropower.
Hydropower, or hydroelectric power, is the least expensive and most popular source of renewable electricity in the United States today. In fact, more than 6% of the country's electricity was produced from hydropower resources in 2014, and about 48% of all renewable electricity generated in
the United States came from hydropower (source: According to the Energy Information Administration).
Because hydropower uses flowing water to create energy that can be captured and turned into electricity, its benefits include high availability and lack of emissions.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s shut down the fossil-fuel-dinosaurs and build some hydropower plants, right?
In some cases, hydropower facilities have nearly wiped out entire fishing industries within just a few years.
Not so fast. There are some pretty serious concerns when it comes to hydropower. Particularly, how these power plants impact neighboring fish and wildlife. Hydroelectric dams generate energy by blocking flowing water. The trouble is they also block migrating fish populations. In some cases, these facilities have nearly wiped out entire fishing industries within just a few years.
Case in point: Baker Lake Case
Take Baker Lake for example. Located in Washington, Baker Lake was a healthy salmon run prior to 1959, averaging about 3,500 adult-sockeye returns each year. That year, Pudget Sound Energy (PSE) completed the Upper Baker Lake Dam. Immediately, although inadvertently, the salmon population began to suffer.
The construction of a dam causes notable logistical hurdles as fish try to migrate down rivers. There are ladders to successfully get fish upstream, but at the time Upper Baker Lake Dam was completed, there simply were not any good solutions for downstream passage. Instead of making it to their destination, fish would end up trapped below the dam, ultimately damaging the population.
In this particular case, the Upper Baker Lake Dam is 300 ft. high on one side, meaning the water there is 300 ft. deep. On the other side, it’s very shallow. So the fish were coming down the river in the upper water column, but they couldn’t dive down.
In 1985, the annual adult sockeye returns at Baker Lake had plunged to a low of just 99 fish.
Much to the dismay of PSE, the annual adult sockeye returns at Baker Lake plunged to a low of just 99 fish in 1985, critically imperiling the stock. People were outraged—from environmentalists and politicians to members of the local fishing community who relied on the salmon for their livelihood.
A conflict arose between the need to generate renewable electricity and the need to keep fish alive. Determined to do both, PSE devoted the next 25 years to finding a solution that would protect the salmon. They tested and implemented new collection devises and different types of barrier nets, and they made investments in habitat, hatchery, and other methods to support the watershed’s fish populations.
Sadly, nothing worked.
In 2011, Pacific Netting Products (PNP) came on board to help. PNP designs, manufactures, and installs a number of netting products that range from high-tech fish passage nets to sports netting designed to protect spectators.
Working with facility operators, engineers, fish biologists, regulators, contractors, PSE leadership and many other stakeholders, PNP identified the limitations and flaws in previous net designs and materials.
Andy Peters, Director or Markets and Applications for PNP, explained, “The material of the net needs to perform some pretty critical functions. If it breaks it will wreak all sorts of havoc. So we need a strong material that doesn’t attract growth, but it also has to be a very fine mesh that can keep even the smallest fish out.”
PNP then custom designed a full-depth barrier net to guide down-steam migrating smolts to a floating collector system—and insisted the nets be made from Dyneema®.
The Dyneema® Difference
Dyneema® is the proprietary brand name of HMPE (high modulus polyethylene) fiber manufactured by DSM. It is a manmade fiber that is among the strongest fibers manufactured today. Technically, it is an ultra-high molecular weight, low density, highly crystalline linear polyethylene fiber.
Key Features of Dyneema®:
- The same strength as equivalent sized steel wire rope at 1/7 the weight
- Highest strength with least amount of surface area
- Low adhesion of marine growth and zebra mussels
- Excellent UV, abrasion and fatigue resistance
- Does not decay or absorb water
- Presents an extremely smooth surface for fish and marine life
Dyneema is used in many applications, but when used in rope and cordage products, it results in ropes that are as strong as or stronger than steel wire while weighing 85% less. Dyneema® fiber has increased abrasion resistance and better flex fatigue performance compared to steel wire, yet it is light weight enough to float. Highly UV resistant, it is also impervious to damage from nearly the full spectrum of industrial chemicals. Its smooth surface with a low coefficient of friction results in less damage to other system components and to the fish and marine life it is set to divert. The smooth surface also provides low adhesion for zebra mussels and other marine growth.
Most importantly for the purpose of barrier nets is Dyneema’s combination of being strong and lightweight. Strong fiber means net bars are thinner for the same strength and thus less load on the net due to water flowing through it and the drag that results.
The impacts of successfully creating a barrier net to keep fish out of hydroelectric dams range from the obvious increase in fish populations to more far-reaching repercussions, including creating more jobs, promoting healthier societies, and changing the tone of the global discussion around renewable energies.
The most obvious impact of successful fish barrier nets is allowing for healthy fish passage. With PNP, each barrier net is custom built for the fish and for the site. In addition to maintaining fish populations, these nets also help continue a critical global transplant of nutrients as fish spawn in cold water, swim out to sea, come back, and repeat the cycle.
In the case of Baker Lake, when healthy salmon return, they bring healthy populations of bears and bugs. Healthy bug populations mean better dirt. And better dirt is better for farmers.
There’s a whole circle of life dependent on fish passage, and humans rely on many levels of that chain to feed our own population. It’s all connected, and it’s much bigger than simply keeping fish alive.
Extending beyond ecological, the impacts of successful fish nets are economical as well. First and foremost, fishermen are able to keep their jobs. At Baker Lake, when the fishing industry crashed after the dam had been built, surrounding communities were impacted as well. As communities suffer with unemployment, local businesses begin to follow suit, property values decrease, and a full-on localized recession takes effect.
The societal impacts of successful fish nets must also be considered. In addition to simply preserving cultures of local communities and protecting traditional ways of life, fish populations also feed populations, particularly in more remote or less developed areas of the world.
Furthermore, the fish passage actually contributes to healthier societies beyond just dietary needs. Without that exchange of nutrients that takes place during annual migrations, all sorts of problems arise. These fish populations help ensure that we have cleaner water, resulting in healthier societies as a whole.
One of the most critical impact of successful barrier nets is actually political. In the past, the conversation on renewable energy is focused on wind and solar. We rarely hear about hydropower—despite the fact that it’s the most affordable and the most popular option—because dams kill fish. Being able to find a solution that allows for power generation without hurting the fish population opens up the conversation around hydropower as a truly sustainable source of energy.
In the United States alone, a mere 130 of the 2,000 hydropower projects are certified as environmentally sustainable, as rated across eight criteria, including water quality protection, upstream fish passage, and safeguarding species. PNP and Dyneema® nets can help address that.
The greenest strength
Not only do nets made with Dyneema® keep fish out of dams to help further hydropower as a reliable source of nonrenewable energy, but they’re also sustainably made with the lowest carbon footprint per unit of strength.
DSM is committed to making Dyneema® the most environmentally friendly option and is delivering on that commitment by outperforming all competing alternatives today. Products made with Dyneema®, including the barrier nets, are ultra-light and durable, giving them a low carbon footprint in their service life. Furthermore, DSM continues to push to further reduce emissions and energy used to produce Dyneema® every year.
A happy story with a powerful ending
At Baker Lake, PNP created and implemented a barrier net system made from over five acres of Dyneema® netting to stop fish from getting caught in the dam turbine intakes while also guiding them into the collector for onward transportation around the dam. The system was put into place in 2012, just in time for the outbound spring migration.
The first year the net was installed, fish passing rose from 20,000 to 200,000. Last year, an astounding 850,000 fish passed through successfully.
Baker Lake has set an example for hydropower facilities in the United States and around the world. And barrier nets are now considered the most effective option to protect fish near hydroelectric dams. The success of this projects shows what can happen when you combine innovative companies looking to solve problems and deliver excellence while focusing on long-term impact. It is possible to find harmony between providing renewable energy and protecting the surrounding environment.
Thanks to DSM and PNP,there is hope—for fish, for renewable energy, and for the communities that rely on both of these to survive and thrive.
The global green
In addition to improving hydropower facilities, barrier nets can also be used in the coal and nuclear power industries. In these industries, exclusion nets are used to keep fish or marine mammals out of the plant turbines and cooling water intakes.
For example, at Bagnell Dam on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, PNP designed a full-exclusion barrier net to reduce entrapment of adult paddlefish and other game fish through the facility turbines. After 10 years, the project is still 100% successful with minimal maintenance and zero failures.
Similarly, at Pickering Nuclear Facility in Ontario, Canada, PNP developed a full-exclusion, high-tension netting barrier that keeps fish out of the cooling water intakes and deflects beds of seasonal algae, while still allowing the algae lifecycle to continue. This project reduced the risk of plant shut downs, provided substantial savings on ongoing plant maintenance, and protected the fish and the environment.
Using Dyneema nets, PNP is reducing the environmental impacts from hydropower, coal, and nuclear power—helping to drive the entire energy industry forward toward a more global green.