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Hydropower Technology Development

Hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States, producing about 7% of the nation's total electricity throughout the last decade. Even after a century of proven experience with this reliable renewable resource, significant opportunities still exist to expand the nation's hydropower resources through non-powered dams, water conveyance systems, pumped storage hydropower, and new site development. The Water Power Program supports the hydropower industry and complements existing investments through the development and deployment of new technologies and key components, and by identifying key opportunity areas through which hydropower generation can be enhanced.

With more than 2,500 U.S. companies supporting the hydropower industry, adding additional hydropower generation will create a large and enduring economic benefit here at home by revitalizing the domestic manufacturing and hydropower industry.

Learn more about the Water Power Program's work in the following areas of hydropower technology development:

Advanced Turbines

Screenshot of a computer-generated image labeled 'Computational Fluid Dynamic Model of the Alden Turbine.' Shows water flowing along a turbine.The Water Power Program supports the development of more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbines that can compete with traditional designs. One such project is the Alden Turbine, which is designed to reduce fish mortality while generating at efficiencies equal to or better than conventional Francis turbines. This turbine will allow downstream fish passage and optimal hydropower generation. After extensive testing and demonstration, the Alden Turbine can be deployed in areas that are otherwise unused for hydropower because of fish populations.

Materials and Manufacturing

The Water Power Program funds R&D to identify and test new materials and manufacturing techniques that improve the performance and lower the costs of hydropower. Areas of program-funded research focus include materials or coatings that reduce the life-cycle cost of turbine runners, draft tubes, and penstocks, and identification and testing of ways to improve generator efficiency and reliability.

Hydropower Systems

The Water Power Program works to develop, demonstrate, and test new technologies and techniques that can improve the energy efficiency and environmental performance of hydropower. The program's activities support industry by reducing capital and operations and maintenance costs, increasing unit availability and plant capacity factors, reducing risk through enhanced system reliability, and improving the quality—environmental performance attributes as well as ancillary power benefits—and quantity of the energy produced. Areas of focus include water-use optimization, the application of advanced materials and manufacturing methods, and modeling and prediction of water power grid services.

Technology Development Accomplishments

The program has numerous accomplishments in hydropower technology development. The projects described below highlight just a few of the program's new opportunities and recent successes in water-use optimization, facility upgrades, and environmental mitigation technologies.

New Opportunities for Advanced Hydropower R&D

Having revamped its hydropower technology efforts, in 2011 the Water Power Program released its first major solicitation for hydropower R&D in more than a decade. These projects, which are underway and scheduled for completion in 2014, aim to reduce costs of hydropower technologies and demonstrate the dynamic grid benefits of advanced hydropower and pumped storage technologies.

Optimizing Hydropower Systems for Power and Environment

Photo of a hydropower plant located on a river with grassy hills around it.The Water Power Program sponsored a team of DOE national laboratories to develop and demonstrate a suite of advanced, integrated analytical tools, known as the Water-Use Optimization Toolset (WUOT). WUOT will assist managers and operators in operating hydropower plants more efficiently, resulting in more energy and grid services from available water resources while enhancing the environmental benefits from improved hydropower operations and planning. WUOT includes tools for hydrologic forecasting, seasonal hydro-systems analysis, day-ahead scheduling and real-time operations, and environmental performance operations, in addition to a graphical user interface and a shared database. WUOT is being deployed for demonstration at the Oroville Complex on the Feather River in California, the upper Colorado River portion of the Colorado River Storage Project, and the Conowingo Dam complex on the Susquehanna River in Maryland.

Revitalizing American Infrastructure

Photo of a turbine inside of a power plant.Three of the Water Power Program's hydropower efficiency projects sponsored through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 have been completed with overwhelming success, resulting in an increase of more than 3,000 megawatt-hours per year.

  • The Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities installed a low-flow turbine to its Abiquiu Hydroelectric Facility in New Mexico. The new turbine boosts overall facility output from 13.8 megawatts to 16.8 megawatts.
  • The City of Boulder, Colorado completed a modernization project to its Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project by installing a new turbine/generator unit. The new unit resulted in a 30% increase in generation and an 18–48% increase in turbine efficiency.
  • The City of Tacoma installed two Francis turbine/generator units to the Cushman Dam in Washington. The new units add approximately 3.6 megawatts of annual electrical generation.
Technology Development for Fish Passage

Photo of a fish sensor aligned against a ruler measuring approximately 9 cm long.Using funding from the Water Power Program, DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has initiated a redesign of their Sensor Fish, a device filled with sensors to measure the conditions that real fish experience when passing through a hydropower turbine. The device has already proven very valuable, providing information that is otherwise unobtainable in order to ensure the safe fish passage. Throughout the redesign, PNNL will expand the types of tests the Sensor Fish can assist with, reduce the overall cost of producing the Sensor Fish, improve its data storage capacity, and improve its realistic representation in a set of new conditions. The ultimate goal is to make the Sensor Fish commercially available so that industry personnel can buy and use one right off the shelf.