In 1882, the world’s first hydroelectric power plant went online in Appleton, Wisconsin. Nearly a century and a half later, hydropower is among the United States’ largest sources of renewable energy. Hydropower plays a significant role in the U.S. power system, providing 31.5% of U.S. renewable electricity generation and 6.3% of total U.S. electricity generation. This resource can help ensure the grid remains reliable and stable as the U.S. uses more variable renewable energy resources, but the industry needs fresh minds and bright ideas to innovate and help make a clean energy future a reality.
With back-to-school season in full swing, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) offers a range of educational resources to teach students of all ages about hydropower and highlights programs designed for those about to embark on their clean energy careers. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can generate curiosity about hydropower by sharing materials that explain the science of hydropower in compelling ways.
Sail to Renewable Energy Discovery Island
A virtual fieldtrip to Renewable Energy Discovery Island introduces young minds to different kinds of hydropower technologies, like pumped storage hydropower and conventional dams.
Travel through WPTO’s educational 3D animations of a renewable energy-powered island that—with help from the next generation of water power scientists, engineers, and visionaries—could one day become reality. Get inspired by diverse marine energy and hydropower technologies, which could energize whole communities, power microgrids and offshore work, and help enable a 100% clean energy grid.
Stop by Hydro Heights, where students will discover how pumped storage systems use reservoirs at different elevations to generate and store electricity, and how that stored energy can feed the grid when power demands are high.
Students can also explore Hydro Hollow, where they’ll learn the inner workings of conventional dams, and how electricity generated from these hydro facilities can power homes and businesses.
These fast-paced and attention-grabbing animations are suitable for elementary, middle, or high school classrooms.
Curricula to Energize Students About Hydropower
Educators and students can scroll through day-in-the-life videos and case studies on the Hydropower STEM Portal’s Career Pathways page to meet all kinds of hydropower professionals. From engineers to line workers to biologists, the hydropower industry needs diverse experts to help maintain, modernize, expand, and advance facilities and technologies.
WPTO and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory collaborated with the National Energy Education Development Project on a standards-based hydropower curriculum. Written for kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high school students, lessons focus on the water cycle, kinetic energy transformations, and electricity. The hydropower curriculum includes background information and hands-on, kit-based activities. From introductory presentations and career and technology units to coloring books and curriculum guides in Spanish, these educational resources can get energy flowing in the classroom.
Explore Pathways to Water Power Careers
Hydropower has the potential to support more than 195,000 U.S.-based jobs by 2050. The U.S. hydropower industry currently employs about 66,500 people; however, approximately 26% of these workers are age 55 and older and will reach retirement age within the next decade. The hydropower sector has also reported that attracting new talent is extremely difficult.
To address these challenges, WPTO supports programs like the recently launched Hydropower Collegiate Competition (HCC) and the Clean Energy Innovator Fellowship to attract innovators who can help advance the hydropower industry.
The first HCC, launched in spring 2022, will engage 11 interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students, including three teams from minority-serving institutions. During the competition, they will have the chance to offer unique solutions to complex challenges related to hydropower’s ability to enable a 100% clean energy grid. The competition aims to prepare the next generation of skilled and diverse workers who can help modernize the U.S. hydropower fleet.
Through the HCC, students will also gain industry experience, a window into potential hydropower career pathways, and greater knowledge of hydropower’s potential to contribute to a clean energy future. Participating teams will develop hydropower technology concept designs, participate in contests, and ultimately present their work at an industry event.
Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Innovator Fellowship funds recent graduates and energy professionals to work with critical energy organizations to advance clean energy solutions. This program will help increase access to clean energy (including hydropower) career opportunities across the country and accelerate the national transition to a resilient and affordable clean energy economy.
Whether teachers incorporate materials into classrooms and curricula or parents introduce them to their kids at home, WPTO’s hydropower resources can help engage young people, spark their curiosity, and even encourage the next generation to one day participate in the HCC, Clean Energy Innovator Fellowship Program, or other renewable energy workforce development efforts.
Learn more about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers and workforce development opportunities on WPTO’s Hydropower STEM Portal.
Interested in learning about another form of water power called marine energy? Visit the Marine Energy STEM Portal to explore educational resources in this growing sector!