Selected Projects Will Strengthen Hydropower’s Ability to Support an Electric Grid with More Variable Renewable Energy Resources

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced $8 million in funding to support projects that will improve the flexibility of the U.S. hydropower fleet and enhance electric grid reliability.

Hydropower is a flexible resource, meaning it can supply electricity immediately or store it to meet real-time demand. By improving flexibility, these projects will strengthen hydropower’s ability to support an evolving electric grid that includes an increasing amount of variable renewable energy sources.

“The hydropower fleet is well suited to help integrate more renewable energy while ensuring the electric grid remains reliable and resilient,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “Hydropower already supports our grid by providing energy generation and storage, and these projects will enhance these contributions while helping us reach our climate goals.”

The selected projects are part of the Water Power Technologies Office’s “Technology Innovation to Increase Hydropower Flexibility” funding opportunity.

The projects include:

  • General Electric Research’s “Increasing Operational Flexibility of Existing Hydropower through Non-Intrusive Feedback Control and Hybridization.” (Award amount: $3,000,000) This project seeks to develop a cost-effective and easy-to-implement method to increase hydropower units’ ability to ramp electricity generation up and down using non-intrusive sensors and other tools that do not require replacement of large equipment. The team will also develop strategies such as combining hydropower with batteries and implementing operational improvements for pumped storage hydropower. The project team estimates approximately 80% of U.S. electricity capacity from hydropower could apply these methods and strategies to enhance plant operations. Partners on this project include General Electric Company, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, and First Light Power.
  • Littoral Power Systems, Inc.’s Turbine/Generator Upgrade System with Control Suite for Increasing Hydropower Plant Flexibility.” (Award amount: $3,080,020) This project aims to design, build, and field test a rapidly deployable upgrade system for existing hydropower plants. The system consists of a novel pump-turbine that can be added to existing dams that, along with associated controls and software, will enhance a plant’s ability to adjust electricity output while decreasing wear and tear on equipment. Partners on this project include Littoral Power Systems, Inc., Penn State University’s Applied Research Laboratory, Electric Power Research Institute, American Electric Power, Hydro Performance Processes Inc., McCullough Consulting LLC, Norm Bishop Consulting LLC, Clear Energy Hydro, and HydroDyne Energy.
  • Oregon State University’s “Hybrid Hydropower-Storage Units for Greater Operational Flexibility.” (Award amount: $1,930,909) This project’s goal is to demonstrate and quantify the value of a hybrid hydroelectric-storage generation unit, which combines a hydropower unit that does not have storage capability with supercapacitors. This project will involve the construction of a 200 kW lab-based hybrid hydroelectric-storage generation unit that will serve as a testbed for performance analysis and model validation. The project team will then develop a high-resolution, real-time, wide-area grid model to investigate the benefits – which can include improvements to response time, ramp rate, active and reactive power capability and flexibility, and virtual inertia – and challenges arising from large-scale integration of hybrid hydropower and energy storage units.

“This new wave of DOE grants brings us ever closer to the bright, blue horizon of a clean energy economy,” said U.S. Senator Ed Markey (MA). “By investing in the ingenuity and innovation of these organizations, we can develop the systems we need to more responsibly and efficiently harbor and generate renewable, clean power from our waters and natural resources.”

The selected projects will support the Water Power Technologies Office’s HydroWIRES Initiative, which seeks to understand, enable, and improve hydropower’s contributions to reliability, resilience, and integration in the rapidly evolving U.S. electricity system.