0
\$\begingroup\$

Normally a household is connected with 3 different connections:

  • Waterpipes
  • Electric cables
  • Internet fiber

Water conducts electricity (and can also transport light), why aren't we transporting electricity using plastic water pipes instead of using copper cables?

If you somehow could use water for optical internet, that'd be a 3-in-1 solution.

New contributor
Mikael Dúi Bolinder is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ In the UK, certainly, it's far more normal to have a gas supply pipe and a copper telephone line than an Internet fiber. \$\endgroup\$ – Finbarr Apr 15 at 14:37
  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ You want the water coming in to your house electrified? Yikes! \$\endgroup\$ – evildemonic Apr 15 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be far more efficient to utilize the water flow to drive a turbine to locally generate the power. The pumps that pressurize the water system would need more electricity to run, and the losses would be the friction / flow restriction in the pipes as well as the efficiency of converting electricity to and from kinetic energy. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Apr 15 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @evildemonic yikes - or shocking? ;) \$\endgroup\$ – UKMonkey Apr 16 at 11:31
26
\$\begingroup\$

Water, especially pure water, is a rather poor conductor of electricity. 5–50 mS/m for tap water vs. more like 6E+7 S/m for copper. That's about 10 orders of magnitude, so for the same losses as a 4 mm diameter AWG 6 wire your pipe would have to be 16,000 km in diameter, which would make plumbing somewhat inconvenient. You'd need a return conductor too.

That said, there are times when water (including groundwater) can be used to conduct electricity for transmission, at a cost in efficiency.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 21
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for 'somewhat inconvenient' \$\endgroup\$ – Michel Keijzers Apr 15 at 14:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to keep your pipes (surely the OP's idea) you'd need to up the ante. With 10mS/m and 1000 m of pipe, cross section 1m^2, you have 100 kOhm resistance R, so to provide a current of I=100A (=10kW at 100V, typical house consumption) you'd need U=I*R = 10MV source voltage. No small change. A related problem is that because all the resistance is in the "cable", the socket voltage varies inverse to the consumption. If you switch everything off and only leave your night light on there is a MV or so of voltage at the socket. The upside: You'll always have hot water. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter A. Schneider Apr 15 at 18:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, this would make a decent "What If" article. "What if we add more power??" \$\endgroup\$ – Peter A. Schneider Apr 15 at 18:28
7
\$\begingroup\$

It is not clear if you want to use the 'same' water pipes for drinking/showering and electricity.

Assumption 1: Same pipe with water for both water and electricity

Because if you would touch water that has too much voltage/current, you die.

Actually, what happens is:

  • Assuming the water has a voltage of 220 V (or 120 V in the US)
  • As soon as you touch the water, there will be (in most circumstances) a connection between the water (110/220 V) and ground (GND).
  • The electricity will flow through your body
  • Depending on the resistance more or less current will start to flow: through your body.
  • This high likely is way too much for your heart, or if not, burn wounds will occur.

Even if the water would have the voltage of a battery, you don't want to brush your teeth with water having a voltage different from ground.

Assumption 2: Different pipes with water for water and electricity

Water has much more electrical resistance than copper, which means it would cause a lot of voltage reduction after long pipes filled with water.

I think this is the main reason, other reasons can be (thinking out loud):

  • Water pipes can leak if broken
  • If a water pipe (plastic) is broken, dirt can get in, resulting in no or less good conductivity.
  • A copper wire always has a certain diameter which is fixed, with water it depends on the pressure of the pipe
  • Pressure is needed to keep the water on such a pressure there are no bubbles.
  • Water can freeze, possibly resulting in different conductivity properties
  • You need multiple pipes, if a pipe breaks the chance is that the water will be 'mixed' resulting in a short cut. A clean copper wire cut will not result directly in a short cut.

Assumption 3: Only inter-house/building pipes

(meaning only using water to distribute electricity within a single building/house).

  • Water generally doesn't go to the same end location as electricity. You don't need a socket near the toilet flush, and you don't need a tap near your TV set. So this is pointless, except maybe for the kitchen (see comment of dim below).
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not "power." Voltage. \$\endgroup\$ – JRE Apr 15 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JRE of course... updated, thanks for the remark. \$\endgroup\$ – Michel Keijzers Apr 15 at 14:16
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Would not be just the shower gel to add a "zing" to your day then :) \$\endgroup\$ – Solar Mike Apr 15 at 14:28
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @MichelKeijzers I'm not knowledgeable enough to prove it with facts, but I'm pretty sure the answer ends like: "[...] so merging the water and electricity delivery infrastructures, trying to combine the constraints of each, would lead to much higher costs, and would be much less practical in terms of maintenance, than just having dedicated, appropriate channels for each of these services, which, by nature, are very different"... Or something like this... \$\endgroup\$ – dim Apr 15 at 15:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Very likely yes, or even worse: incredibly unsafe situations. \$\endgroup\$ – Michel Keijzers Apr 15 at 15:16
2
\$\begingroup\$

Water is a poor conductor. Its conductivity may suffice to electrocute yourself in your bathtub, but it's much, much worse than that of copper:

This means that copper is conducting electricity one to ten billion times better than water. A water pipe is thicker than the wires of an electric cable, but this can't compensate such a huge difference.

Note that this answer is only about the conductivity. Safety and other aspects haven't even been mentioned.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for using Siemens like we all shoud know what it is (we should!) \$\endgroup\$ – Harper Apr 15 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Using conductivity is a weak argument, you can always step up the voltage to several thousand volts so only a few microamps are needed to traverse the poor conductor. - But either way, this question is only a fun thought experiment, nothing more than that. \$\endgroup\$ – Harry Svensson Apr 15 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HarrySvensson: I firmly disagree! A few thousand volt wouldn't be enough. You would have to raise the voltage by more than a factor of 10 000 to transmit the same power. Do you seriously propose household voltages above 1 MV? \$\endgroup\$ – Frank from Frankfurt Apr 16 at 7:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FrankfromFrankfurt The water is already in contact with grounded pipes so nothing makes sense anyways. But IF the water was insulated like mad, and properly neutralized for drinking/showering, then yes, 1 MV would make sense. But this question is too derpy to be taken seriously. Too many plot holes. \$\endgroup\$ – Harry Svensson Apr 16 at 8:51
1
\$\begingroup\$

Let us assume that the water is hard (ie with a modest amount of calcium in)... the resistance of the water will be modest, but maybe for short distances it'll "be ok".

Once the water gets to your house, you want to remove any potential difference to ground before anyone can touch the water - which would mean that you would have to have a section that is connected to ground and the water.

If you do this, the amount of power you can extract from the electricity is limited because you have been required to short your mains to keep it safe... and a load placed across a short isn't going to be able to draw much.

Further to this, now that you've had to short the mains, there will be a current continually running - meaning a huge amount of power will be wasted.

It gets worse.

Passing a current through water will result in electrolysis resulting in a build up of hydrogen and oxygen in the pipe. Highly reactive gasses in a confined area is what results in explosions.

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Simple circuit Answer:

It will never work , even if salt water (lossy), or pure dielectric Dk=80 water ( too small capacitance for a long gap between electrodes.

schematic

simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab

Your concept results in a short circuit to the grid with no power transfer.

Two big theoretical problems: High VAR load and water flow restriction

although water has Dk=80 the electrodes in C/2 must be large Area/gap to create a large capacitance.

Since the electrode gap in the transmission line end-end is huge , you now have a a very high series impedance and the AC voltage is then attenuated by the impedance Ratio of high series and low load impedance. - thus the small gap would restrict flow of water. - and the shunt capacitance across the grid now acts as a reactive load which although is opposite 90 deg phase to inductive loads would refult in very poor Power Factor and high VAR losses

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How does the diagram relate to the question? I don’t know much about circuit diagrams \$\endgroup\$ – Jonathan Lam Apr 15 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you do not know about VAR loads or circuit diagrams then you cannot understand the concept of a reactive load. to create the low capacitive impedance to transmit power at low frequency. This only works for microwave antenna stripline for impedance matching ( no water) \$\endgroup\$ – Sunnyskyguy EE75 Apr 15 at 15:48
0
\$\begingroup\$

Other answers have already covered why this isn't a good idea.

What is a good idea is sharing a large-diameter pipe with other services where possible. There are already projects where sewer pipes have been used for fibre-optic connections, instead of digging a dedicated hole in the ground for your fibre. The fibre is small enough that it won't affect the sewer, there's no disturbance above ground along the route of the cable (which as well as being more convenient also makes it much cheaper), and it's better protected from being dug up accidentally. For example, this project around London.

The thicker pipes for drinking water and thicker armoured cables for electrical power are less obvious wins, but could still use this. However most towns and cities already have this infrastructure in place, so there's no reason to change it; and new developments of course are free to lay services wherever they want whilst the diggers are still working. The difference for fibre of course is that it's a new service being retrofitted into the existing infrastructure.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

Mikael Dúi Bolinder is a new contributor. Be nice, and check out our Code of Conduct.

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.