Innovations for Low-Impact Hydropower Growth

Project Name: NPD Development Opportunities Assessment 

Project Team: Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

Lead Recipient Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee 

Solid black line separating content.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) developed two tools and published a report to aid developers’ decisions when adding power-generating infrastructure to dams that currently do not generate power, referred to as non-powered dams (NPDs). There are more than 90,000 dams in the United States, but less than 3% generate hydropower. ORNL’s NPD Retrofit Exemplary Design for Hydropower Applications report, NPD Explorer App, and NPD Custom Analysis and Taxonomy App will facilitate knowledge sharing across the industry and support decision-making on retrofitting NPDs with power-generating infrastructure. 

The NPD Retrofit Exemplary Design for Hydropower Applications Report identified key NPD development challenges facing the industry, including aging infrastructure, dam design limitations, development costs and timelines, and environmental considerations. The report also outlined technology innovations—such as the use of advanced manufacturing techniques and standard modular hydropower, and combining the development of alternative energy systems to share equipment costs—to help address these challenges. The report identifies best practices to guide development activities, and identifies opportunities to achieve non-energy benefits, such as restoring river environments or improving infrastructure reliability, through an NPD project.

A stone wall with a waterway behind it and a small waterfall as the water passes from the waterway past the stone structure
Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a report identifying key opportunities to add hydropower generation to non-powered dams in the United States.
Image from Andrea Walls, U.S. Department of Energy’s Make a Splash Photo Contest

ORNL also released the NPD Explorer App, an interactive platform that allows researchers and developers to explore NPD development opportunities in the United States. The tool features filters that allow users to narrow down NPDs by a variety of characteristics, such as location and proximity to existing electricity transmission infrastructure. Meanwhile, the NPD Custom Analysis and Taxonomy App is a step-by-step tool that allows users to easily group and compare dams across the country, providing valuable insights into NPD development opportunities.  

Innovations for Low-Impact Hydropower Growth Projects