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Hydropower Market Acceleration and Deployment

Photo of the Wanapum Dam.Hydropower contributes significantly to the nation's renewable energy portfolio; over the last decade, the United States obtained nearly 7% of its electricity from hydropower sources. Already the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States, there remains a vast untapped resource potential in hydropower. The Water Power Program works to address environmental and regulatory barriers that prevent significant amounts of deployment; to assess and quantify the value of hydropower to the nation's electric grid and its ability to integrate other variable renewable energy technologies; and to develop a vibrant U.S. hydropower workforce and research community.

In addition to conventional hydropower, pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) is an important piece of DOE's renewable energy portfolio because it acts as utility-scale grid storage technology. DOE's Water Power Program can play an essential and catalytic role in demonstrating the benefits of PSH and its part in our nation's clean energy future as a renewable form of grid stabilization and critical enabler for high penetration of variable renewables such as wind and solar.

Learn more about the Water Power Program's work in the following areas of hydropower market acceleration and deployment:

Environmental Impacts and Mitigation

Hydropower can have adverse environmental impacts on fish populations and migrations, on water quality in reservoirs and downstream from dams, and on river habitats both upstream and downstream from dams. The Water Power Program works to design, develop, and test new ways of reducing these adverse impacts, which have slowed the development of new hydropower generation and improvements in operational flexibility. The program's focus areas include:

Photo of wooden fish ladders crossing a river.

  • Fish passage issues — Research on the safe passage of fish through and around hydroelectric structures, including baseline measurements and new technology demonstrations in real-world applications to measure and predict indirect fish mortality and non-lethal injury rates.
  • Instream flow requirements — Studies to better understand and predict the effects of variable stream flows on fish and wildlife, and synthesis and integration studies to gather data from experiences across multiple, existing projects.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs — Development, testing, and demonstration of methods to measure and predict greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs at hydropower projects in order to verify the technology's emission-avoiding capacity.
  • Water quality — Water temperature and dissolved oxygen model development and demonstration that enables operators to better meet environmental mandates while increasing electricity generation.

Asset Management

Photo of water pouring out of the Cushman Dam.Existing hydropower facilities in the United States show signs of deterioration, including declines in electricity generation, capacity factors, and facility availability. The data to evaluate these facilities, which include both federal and non-federal assets, are scattered and outdated. The Water Power Program is working with partners to integrate and update information in order to understand the causes and potential solutions to the large annual variation of hydropower generation.

Grid Services

Hydropower has the potential to increase the flexibility and stability of the U.S. electric grid and to support the integration of variable renewable resources. The Water Power Program seeks to maximize this potential value by developing and deploying technologies that increase operational flexibility, including pumped storage. The Water Power Program also modifies regional computer models to better assess potential capacity expansions of pumped storage and facilitate introduction of other variable renewable resources into the market.

Skills Assessment and Workforce Development

A major challenge faced by the hydropower industry is replacing the large portion of the skilled hydropower workforce that is eligible for retirement currently or in the coming years. The National Hydropower Association estimates as much as 40 percent of the workforce will soon be eligible for retirement. The Water Power Program has identified replacing the highly skilled hydropower workforce with a new generation of trained workers as key to ensuring a clean energy future. The Program is currently investing in two efforts to develop tomorrow’s hydropower workforce.

Hydropower Workforce Study

Led by Navigant Consulting, Inc. with technical support from NREL and funding from DOE, this study will evaluate the workforce needs and skill requirements of the current and future hydropower industry, and catalogue education and training programs currently available in the United States to support the industry. Study results, expected in 2015, will identify gaps in training programs considering projected workforce needs and identify potential solutions. For information or to participate in this study, contact Jay Paidipati at Navigant Consulting, Inc.

Hydro Research Awards Program

The Hydro Research Foundation currently leads this successful graduate research awards program funded by DOE to spur innovation in hydropower technologies and recruit the next generation of skilled hydropower engineers and scientists. To date, DOE has supported 62 researchers at 29 universities. For more information about this program, visit the Hydro Research Foundation website.

Market Acceleration and Deployment Accomplishments

The Water Power Program has numerous accomplishments in the areas of hydropower market acceleration and deployment. The projects described below highlight just a few of the program's recent successes in environmental impact and mitigation, asset management, and grid services R&D.

Sensor Fish Reduce Costs and Complexity of Determining Biological Performance of Hydro Turbines

Continued efficient operation of the existing hydropower fleet and advancement of DOE goals for growth in hydropower require innovation to resolve environmental barriers. Water Power Program funding recently enabled Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers to develop an improved Sensor Fish to better inform hydropower operators of risks to fish passing through hydro turbines. Improvements in Sensor Fish performance, coupled with ease of use and decreased purchase and use costs, could enable the use of Sensor Fish to replace the use of live fish for assessment of the biological performance of hydro-turbines, leading to significant reduction of the cost and complexity of hydro-turbine biological performance. The next generation Sensor Fish is being used by the Army Corps of Engineers and the hydropower industry to quantitatively evaluate fish passage conditions within new and existing hydro-turbines. This successful project is an example of the integration of cutting edge engineering, biological science, and computational modeling, to evaluate and address key barriers to hydropower operation, turbine replacement, and new hydropower development.

Working Together for Hydropower

Since the U.S. Department of the Army (through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of the Interior signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Hydropower in 2010, these agencies advanced their mutual goals for the development of clean, reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable hydropower generation in the United States. The Water Power Program contributed significantly to a number of accomplishments including the completion of numerous hydropower resource assessments; the development of hydropower facility modernization and optimization tools; the demonstration of new hydropower generation technologies through collaborative research funding; the completion of a study on the effects of climate change on water availability for hydropower; and the establishment of a Federal Inland Hydropower Working Group with staff from 15 federal entities involved in hydropower. To read more about the MOU for Hydropower, see the Two-Year Progress Report.

In coordination with DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the program oversaw an assessment of the impacts of climate change on hydropower at federal facilities and on the marketing of power from these federal facilities. The assessment included a historical analysis of the sensitivity of federal hydropower operations to climate variables, a climate modeling analysis that projected climate conditions and impacts to hydropower into the future, and a literature review of other related climate studies for comparison to Oak Ridge's modeling results. The findings are detailed in a technical report and summarized in a report to Congress.

Identifying Win-Win Opportunities for Power and Environment

The Water Power Program is funding a team of national laboratories under the direction of the MOU for Hydropower to conduct water basin scale assessments to identify opportunities that allow basin stakeholders to generate more electricity, meet water demands, and enhance the environment in those areas. The first basin assessment was conducted in the Deschutes and Crooked River Basins in Oregon and consisted of extensive research, stakeholder outreach, and modeling. By the end of 2013, the basins will have a report on the team's findings along with a model to help basin stakeholders in future planning efforts. New basins will be assessed in the coming years in part of the Water Power Program's efforts to sustainably increase U.S. hydropower generation.

Pumped-Storage Hydropower: Batteries for the Electric Grid

Photo of a reservoir next to a hydroelectric station, surrounded by wooded hills.A team of DOE funded industry partners and national laboratories are developing a detailed model of the only feasible utility-scale storage technology, advanced pumped-storage hydropower, to analyze its technical capabilities to provide grid services, and to assess the value of these services under different market structures. The project will provide the most up-to-date characterization of pumped-storage yet, assessing its value and potential contribution to existing electricity generation. The research team aims to develop a publicly available model and disseminate the information to stimulate the hydropower industry and further strengthen investment and development of pumped-storage. The corresponding report will contain three parts:

  • a review of existing hydroelectric turbine simulation models
  • a model of adjustable speed pumped-storage hydro units
  • a model of ternary pumped-storage units.