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Hydropower Research & Development

The Water Power Program's hydropower research and development (R&D) efforts focus on advancing technologies that produce electricity from falling or flowing water. For more than 100 years, hydropower has been an important source of flexible, low-cost, and emissions-friendly renewable energy. The program is currently leading efforts to increase the generating capacity and efficiency at existing hydropower facilities; add hydroelectric generating capacity to non-powered dams; and improve the environment compatibility of hydropower.

Hydropower technologies generate power by using a dam or diversion structure to alter the natural flow of a river or other body of water. The Department of Energy's "Hydropower 101" video explains how hydropower works and highlights some of the Water Power Program's efforts in R&D in this area.

The program's efforts fall under three categories: technology development; market acceleration and deployment; and resource assessment and characterization.

Technology Development 

The Water Power Program researches, develops, tests, and demonstrates advanced hydropower technologies that will increase generation and improve existing means of generating hydroelectricity. Specific activities include the following:

  • Conducting technology development and testing activities to provide the data and plans needed to prove advanced concepts and support future full-scale projects
  • Supporting the research and testing of hydropower optimization tools that will increase generation and improve the environmental performance of hydropower facilities.

Learn more by visiting the program's Hydropower Technology Development page.

Market Acceleration and Deployment 

The Water Power Program works to reduce the time and costs associated with permitting hydropower projects; to better quantify the potential magnitude, costs, and benefits of hydropower generation; and to identify and address other barriers to hydropower deployment. Specific activities include the following:

  • Assessing the potential size of the nation's hydropower resources, including the potential for generating capacity additions at existing hydropower facilities and non-powered dams, as well as the potential for new low-impact and small hydropower generation
  • Designing, developing, and testing new ways of reducing the environmental effects of hydropower
  • Working to quantify the benefits of effective and cost-competitive hydropower technologies.

Learn more by visiting the program's Hydropower Market Acceleration and Deployment page.

Resource Assessment and Characterization 

The Water Power Program has released reports and maps that assess the total technically recoverable energy available in the nation's powered dams, non-powered dams, and untapped stream-reaches. Learn about the resource assessment and characterization of the nation's hydropower resources.