Water power, including hydropower and marine energy, is a steadfast renewable that will play a key role in building a reliable and resilient clean energy power grid and decarbonizing the economy. And it’s people—especially the water power workers, researchers, and entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow—who will lead the energy transition. 

This Earth Day’s theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” At the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), investing in the planet means investing in people. And this year, WPTO has more initiatives underway and resources available than ever before, all focused on encouraging the growth of the hydropower and marine energy industries.  

Hydropower plants produce electricity using the elevation difference created by a dam or diversion structure. Water flows in one side and exits at a lower point, spinning a turbine, which runs a generator and produces electricity. Meanwhile, marine energy technologies transform the renewable energy in oceans and rivers—like that present in the natural flow of currents, tides, and waves—into electricity. Some devices can even use changes in salt levels, temperatures, and pressure gradients to generate renewable energy. 

However, both industries face challenges. About 26% of the hydropower workforce will reach retirement age within the next few years, and the newer marine energy industry is working to achieve commercial success. To reach the nation’s goal of achieving a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050, the country needs both water power industries to grow. 

If you’re curious about a career in water power, consider perusing a few of WPTO’s latest career-building and R&D efforts. If you pursue your water power passion today, you could help build the future of energy. 

New to Water Power? Check Out These Resources and Events

Visit the Renewable Energy Discovery (REDi) Island, where visitors can learn about the different kinds of water power by exploring a tidal town, research reef, hydro heights, and more. This learning platform encourages users to engage in clean energy science, educate tomorrow’s energy innovators, and inspire a renewable energy revolution.  

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In the REDi Island web app (coming soon!), users can explore the many kinds of hydropower and marine energy technologies that power our world. From Hydro Heights to Tidal Town, users get a glimpse into how this renewable energy-powered world can support tomorrow’s clean energy grid.
Video by National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Join the Spark Squad to learn all about marine energy and hydropower! This comic book series follows a group of middle school students as they learn about water power technologies and careers.  

Check out educational resources and videos from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Salmon Summit, which brings together hundreds of fourth- and fifth-grade students to raise and release salmon while learning about conservation.  

Participate in one of the Hydropower Foundation’s Think Tank Competitions, designed for post-secondary students and recent graduates to help solve regional hydropower challenges and network with industry.  

Check out a series of day-in-the-life videos featuring people working in different careers across the hydropower and marine energy industries. 

Ready to Launch Your Water Power Career? WPTO Can Help 

Eager to get hands-on experience in hydropower, marine energy, or a related industry? Check out the Hydropower Collegiate Competition and Marine Energy Collegiate Competition. These two competitions challenge students to design unique solutions to help advance these clean energy technologies and connect them with people working in the industry. 

The final events for the 2023 Hydropower Collegiate Competition and Marine Energy Collegiate Competition will be held in person from May 7–10 at the National Hydropower Association’s Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C. Applications for next year’s competitions close on April 24, so stay tuned to WPTO’s website to learn the 2024 teams once they are announced! 

What Does the Future Hydropower Workforce Look Like? Check Out the Stats—And Next Steps 

Because hydropower will play a key role on the clean energy grid, the industry needs to grow. And to do that, a new, diverse workforce must fill the industry’s well-paying jobs, including those that are likely to open up as 26% of the domestic hydropower workforce reaches retirement age in the next few years.  

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, on behalf of WPTO and in partnership with the Hydropower Foundation, cohosted a Hydropower Workforce Workshop during the Center for Energy Advancement through Technological Innovation 2023 Hydropower Conference in March. More than 60 people from industry, academia, and government discussed how to strengthen the hydropower workforce by focusing on these top priorities:  

  • Build nationwide and international partnerships.
  • Align the hydropower industry to rebuild the workforce pipeline.
  • Enhance interest in hydropower by changing perception.
  • Facilitate localized community immersion efforts. 

This investment in tomorrow’s workforce is, of course, an investment in the planet—as are all WPTO’s many other education and workforce development programs. People will build the clean energy future. That’s why investing in them is so important. 

For more educational resources that could help inspire students to explore water power, check out WPTO’s educational resources page

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