Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Funding Selections Announced for Innovative Design Concepts for Standard Modular Hydropower and Pumped Storage Hydropower

April 1, 2019

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Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced selections for up to $7.5 million for innovations that reduce cost and maximize the value of new stream-reach hydropower development and pumped storage hydropower (PSH). Funded projects will develop new design concepts and associated modeling and analysis for standard modular hydropower (SMH) and PSH, respectively.

DOE supports research and development efforts to modernize the U.S. hydropower fleet through practical engineering applications like standardization and modularity—which makes use of separate, similar components that can be constructed off-site then easily integrated into new or existing sites in an environmentally sustainable manner. It also supports technologies consistent with DOE's Advanced Energy Storage Initiative—which drives technology beyond cost reductions toward improved performance and enhanced provision of services to the grid.

Selections were made across two topic areas, outlined below. The first aims to stimulate innovative designs for small, low-head hydropower facilities capable of lowering the capital costs and reducing the environmental impacts of development at new stream-reaches. The second supports scientific analyses that would illustrate how PSH can optimize the performance of the U.S. electric grid system to lower overall system costs. 

Innovative Design Concepts for Low-head Hydropower

  • Natel Energy of Alameda, California, will create a blueprint for a new generation of water power projects by using a modern low-head hydropower technology that also utilizes best practices of stream restoration and whitewater recreation. Natel’s environmentally-friendly project includes generation modules and modular foundation design, nature-based passage functionality including head creation, water, fish and sediment passage, sport management and recreation passage, and a novel set of module foundation concepts.
  • Littoral Power Systems of New Bedford, Massachusetts will develop an innovative foundation module design using 3D contouring to ensure compatibility of precast foundation with the streambed, while minimizing environmental impacts during construction. Littoral will also further develop its semi-prefabricated foundation into a fully prefabricated modular design, and combine it with existing passage and generation modules for replicable facility-level designs.

Topic Area 2: New Use Cases for Pumped Storage Hydropower

Subtopic 2.1: Innovative conceptual designs for pumped storage systems

  • University of Utah of Salt Lake City, Utah will develop detailed conceptual designs to leverage existing water and wastewater system infrastructure for pumped storage hydropower. The project will explore the possibility of using existing large water storage tanks for distributed PSH by installing secondary storage tanks in locations with elevation differences to help enable electric utilities and water/wastewater districts to develop energy storage capabilities in a cost-effective way.
  • Quidnet Energy Inc. of Houston, Texas will design, engineer, and characterize a bi-directional injector-generator (INGEN) for a geo-mechanical pumped storage (GPS) operation that stores energy by pumping water into existing rock fissures at high pressures. The INGEN serves the same function as reversible turbines in traditional PSH facilities by consuming electricity to pump water during charging, and generating electricity from water pressure during discharge. The innovative technology can operate at higher temperature than traditional PSH, achieve 95% mechanical efficiency (each way), and has the potential to reduce capital expenditures and energy storage solutions in relatively flat areas where conventional PSH may not be possible.

Subtopic 2.2: Modeling and analyzing the role of pumped storage in asset and system optimization

  • Missouri University of Science and Technology of Rolla, Missouri will evaluate the long-term benefit of optimized PSH operations to better align underlying PSH capabilities with evolving electrical grid needs, particularly including the needs for more frequent and larger cycling of generation and energy storage to integrate variable renewables, like wind or solar into the grid. It also will investigate near term price evaluation methodology and incorporate price estimates into electricity markets for optimizing PSH operations within the operating day.
  • General Electric, Inc., of Schenectady, New York will assess and quantify the less understood benefits of PSH and outline the potential role that PSH plays in a future U.S. electrical grid that includes higher levels of renewables. The project will quantify benefits like energy and grid service value streams, contribution to long-term grid reliability, and contribution to system stability. This project will encompass three innovative scientific studies that examine PSH value to the overall system and the development of a tool for PSH developers to configure and optimally schedule energy storage.
  • Electric Power Research Institute of Charlotte, North Carolina will improve state-of-the-art modeling approaches to better capture the value of essential PSH grid reliability services using multiple real-world systems. By using models and datasets to examine different PSH technologies and configurations—such as traditional site-specific design, modularized application, variable speed, separate pump and turbine, etc.—and battery discharge rates to better understand which technologies and storage durations may provide the most value.

Hydropower and pumped storage are key components to strengthening the American economy and energy security. WPTO is committed to lowering the cost and build time of hydropower and pumped storage systems while reducing environmental impacts and permitting timelines, further increasing their ability to provide essential flexibility and reliability services our grid needs now and in the future. For more on WPTO, visit its website here.