EERE Success Story—Small Business Voucher Awardee Develops Approach for Evaluating Hydropower Potential from Conduits

August 13, 2018

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Selected by the Water Power Technologies Office during the third round of the Small Business Vouchers (SBV) Program, Telluride Energy of Telluride, Colorado, partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to produce a new methodology for evaluating the potential for development of conduit-based hydropower (retrofitting non-powered civil infrastructure such as tunnels, canals, and pipelines for hydropower) in the United States. Repurposing water systems for hydropower is highly feasible due to the low development risks involved, the lack of significant new construction necessary, minimal effects on the environment, and the proximity of many conduits to public utility grids. Utilizing municipal, public water system (PWS) sample data from Oregon and Colorado as the basis for validating the proposed methodology, Telluride provided a baseline approach to assessing conduit-hydropower resources that can inform programmatic and policy decisions for government entities as well as for the hydropower industry.

Telluride’s methodology involved analyzing many data sources including but not limited to PWS information; water intake locations; water treatment plant locations; city boundaries; elevation; historical water use and; existing hydropower assets from ORNL’s National Hydropower Asset Assessment Program. Data was then coupled with a hydropower resource assessment model that compared available sites, net hydraulic head (change in elevation between the reservoir water level and the downstream level), and flow (volume of water passing a point in a given amount of time). After applying the methodology to data from Oregon and Colorado, Telluride and ORNL identified opportunities for hydropower conduit installation at 89 PWSs in Oregon with 12.38 megawatts (MW) of potential capacity. In Colorado, the results identified 63 PWSs with a combined 33.99 MW of potential capacity.

In addition to examining the potential for conduit-based project development, Telluride’s study also provides details on the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (HREA) of 2013. Among other benefits, HREA can provide an accelerated, 60 days or less pathway to acquiring Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authorization for qualifying small hydropower projects. As conduit-based hydropower sites are frequently categorized as small hydropower (less than 10 MW), it is likely that many of the potential sites in Oregon and Colorado analyzed in Telluride’s study would qualify for HREA benefits. Expedited FERC approvals can be a major asset to developers seeking to save time and associated costs in retrofitting and ultimately deploying hydropower projects.

Much of the data used in Telluride’s report is also available on a national scale, so there is potential for a more all-inclusive study to be produced for the United States. The company’s work was funded through the third round of the SBV Program, which has provided U.S. small businesses with premier access to the expertise and facilities of Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories. Over three rounds, DOE has offered up to $20 million to support approximately 100 small businesses by issuing national lab vouchers valued between $50,000 and $300,000 per company.