Hydropower has been a reliable source of energy for our country since 1880, and most U.S. hydropower facilities are over 50 years old. These facilities need updates to increase efficiency, improve energy reliability, and enhance community and grid resilience. This requires incorporating state-of-the-art capabilities into hydropower infrastructure.

Investing in hydropower modernization ensures reliable, secure, clean energy for all Americans. It’s good for business, as well as job creation and growth: We need a skilled workforce to modernize and manage hydropower facilities. At the same time, energy planners must prepare their communities to include water power in the transition to 100% clean energy that is affordable and accessible for all.

For these reasons and others, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) works alongside the hydropower industry as it works to modernize the national hydropower fleet, funding research and development.

Hydropower’s Role on the National Stage

Hydropower generates energy on demand, mixes well with other renewable energy technologies like wind and solar to balance the electric grid, and can help restart the grid after an outage. Hydropower already accounts for nearly 30% of U.S. renewable generation and just over 6% of all U.S. power.

But its storage capabilities are unparalleled: Pumped storage hydropower (PSH) facilities provide 93% of all utility scale energy storage for days, or even weeks—longer than other forms of commercially available energy storage.

Modern controls enable hydropower and pumped storage hydropower to ramp up or down in real time. Ensuring these facilities have modern controls is essential for consistent energy and energy storage across the country.

A Boon to Business and Industry

The Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds research and development through its Fleet Modernization, Maintenance, and Cybersecurity portfolio to help incorporate innovative capabilities into hydropower infrastructure, complementing DOE’s Grid Deployment Office’s efforts. WPTO’s support enables the following:

De-risking investments. To help hydropower operators make more informed maintenance, upgrade, and installation decisions, WPTO funded the development of a hydropower digital twin, a virtual model of a hydropower unit that lets operators see how new technologies could affect their operations.

Improving cybersecurity. Modernization often means adding digital systems and communication networks, like electronic valves and components that help gather data used to improve performance. Because digital additions can create vulnerabilities, WPTO funded the Cybersecurity Value-at-Risk Framework, a free, public tool that enables owners and operators of hydropower facilities to better understand cybersecurity risks—and tactics to mitigate them.

Boosting supply chains. As part of a White House-led effort, DOE is working to strengthen the hydropower supply chain to ensure operators can access equipment to modernize their facilities. WPTO is addressing industry challenges identified in the Hydropower Supply Chain Deep Dive Assessment, such as labor shortages and project delays owing to lack of access to components, by supporting research to better understand hydropower workforce needs, increase the potential for advanced manufacturing to reduce supply chain constraints, and stimulate a robust, domestic supply chain for hydropower components. 

Funding for New Hydropower Projects

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), DOE will invest nearly $1 billion through three hydroelectric incentive programs to upgrade, expand, and maintain our nation’s existing hydropower fleet and add hydropower capacity to non-powered dams.

Additionally, WPTO regularly awards funding to support hydropower and PSH technologies and deployment. Yesterday, seven projects received $13 million in BIL funds to develop technologies that can add power-generating capabilities to dams that do not produce power, advance technologies to accelerate deployment of PSH, and support hydropower organizations that are new to working with the WPTO.

Learn more about and apply for hydropower funding opportunities and prize competitions.

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