Energy Department Awards up to $9.8 Million for Next-Generation Hydropower Technologies

January 18, 2017

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The Energy Department today announced six organizations selected to receive up to $9.8 million in funding to develop innovative technologies that will reduce capital costs and deployment timelines for pumped-storage hydropower and non-powered dams. Supporting the Energy Department’s HydroNEXT initiative, these projects aim to lower costs, improve performance, and promote environmental stewardship.

Today, only three percent of the nation’s dams generate electricity. The non-powered dam (NPD) technology projects will help tap this resource by supporting the development of low-head, modular designs, which use separate, similar components that can be easily integrated and scaled to greater capacities. Modular designs can reduce infrastructure and construction costs and operate flexibly over a range of conditions at existing dams. The pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) projects will study the feasibility of innovative concepts for closed-loop pumped-storage hydropower systems.

Three projects will address PSH technologies:

  • Shell Energy North America of Houston, Texas, will investigate the feasibility of building a 5 MW closed-loop—projects typically consisting of two reservoirs that are not connected to naturally-flowing sources of water—pumped-storage system. Specifically, the project will consist of a water storage tank, a pipeline/penstock, and a floating barge on the water. A submerged membrane will act as a storage reservoir. The technology is a reliable, safe, and low-cost option to increase closed-loop PSH development.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory of Golden, Colorado, will couple a Ternary Pumped-Storage Hydro (T-PSH) technology—the fastest-acting and most advanced system available—with sophisticated transmission monitoring and control equipment to address renewable energy integration issues. The project will provide a proof of concept for a highly flexible system that can improve PSH’s ability to integrate variable renewables.
  • Obermeyer Hydro Accessories Inc. of Wellington, Colorado, will install reversible pump turbines with submersible permanent magnet motor generators—a more cost-effective solution than underground power houses. Innovative pressure relief and hoisting systems will eliminate the need for surge tanks and large cranes. The scalability and versatility of the design will facilitate the storage of renewable energy throughout the United States.

Three projects will address technologies to add power to NPDs:

  • Natel Energy, Inc. of Alameda, California, will test a laboratory-scale Linear Pelton (LP) hydroEngine turbine. The aim of the technology is to increase the number of economically viable projects at non-powered dams by reducing the amount of civil works modifications as well as maintaining a high efficiency.
  • Canyon Hydro of Deming, Washington, will optimize the design of the traditional Archimedes Screw for use in low-head, high-flow hydroelectric sites. The technology will reduce manufacturing and transportation costs through its innovative, fish-safe, modular turbine blade design.
  • Rickly Hydrological Company of Columbus, Ohio, will design and laboratory-test advanced powertrain, modular infrastructure components, and design software to simplify small hydropower development at non-powered dams. The project focuses on a site development approach that can be applied to other hydropower technologies.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. For more information on water power research, development, testing, and deployment see the EERE Water Power Program’s website.