The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) today announced over $16 million in new projects to further hydropower and marine energy research and development. These awards encompass $5.6 million for hydropower projects and $10.5 million for marine energy projects across six national laboratories.

Hydropower accounts for 31.5% of U.S. renewable electricity generation and 6.3% of the country’s total electricity generation. While marine energy is not widely deployed across the country, the total available marine renewable energy in the United States is equivalent to approximately 57% of all U.S. power generation in 2019. Even if only a small portion of this technical resource potential is captured, marine energy technologies would make significant contributions to U.S. energy needs.

These projects will advance hydropower and marine energy technologies and their roles in achieving both national and local clean energy goals.

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) will lead these projects. All of the hydropower projects and four of the marine energy projects (under the New Remote Coastal Community Work—Microgrid Application and Environmental Monitoring Campaign topics) are funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The remaining marine energy projects are funded through WPTO’s Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations.

The projects announced today include $2.7 million in Marine Energy “Sapling” projects and $1.1 million in Hydropower “Seedlings” projects. WPTO developed the Seedlings and Saplings program to encourage and provide short term funding to new and innovative research ideas in hydropower and marine energy at the DOE national laboratories. Projects start as Seedlings eligible for up to $100,000. Promising Seedling projects are then eligible to become Saplings with funding of $150,000 to $500,000.

Hydropower Lab Call Selections

The 13 hydropower projects cover four topic areas and include the following:

Topic: Fish Passage

In this project, PNNL will partner with Pennsylvania State University and industry partners to develop a self-powered, modular acoustic telemetry system that allows for long-term monitoring of fish, like American eel and sturgeon over large distances. This concept seeks to replace batteries, which limit the amount of time a species can be tracked, with a kinetic energy harvesting unit to power the tag with the motion of a fish’s own swimming. This is expected to significantly advance the ability to collect fish movement and migration data relevant to hydropower permitting and evaluations of basin-scale river connectivity to inform fish passage outcomes.

In this project, PNNL and industry partners will develop a set of metrics and a framework to predict the injury and mortality rates of fish passing through turbines using measurements from existing datasets collected using the Sensor Fish device. This device measures physical stressors fish experience when passing through or around dams. The metrics and framework will be incorporated into a new version of the Hydropower Biological Evaluation Toolkit software.

In this project, PNNL will work with Alden Research Laboratory to improve evaluations of turbine entrainment (or how fish are drawn into turbine intakes) and fish survival at hydropower facilities by updating the 1997 Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Turbine Survival and Entrainment Database – Field Tests report. Researchers expect to produce a database and data gaps summary that will address industry needs.

In this project, ORNL will partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and industry stakeholders to create a dataset of fish passage infrastructure at U.S. hydropower facilities. The dataset will include information on technologies, engineering characteristics, fish species, operations scheduling, and more. This work will help WPTO develop decision support tools and information to improve environmental performance and ensure hydropower’s long-term value.

In this project, PNNL is supporting the UCUT’s (Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians) Phase II plan to reintroduce salmon to their historic range in upper Columbia River where migration and access to habitat is blocked by high head dams. The project features several research components, including a feasibility assessment of fish transportation and rearing, an evaluation of adding a delayed start to feature the Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (fish tracking tags) for detecting fish movements at key life stages, an evaluation of a methodology to reduce costs of monitoring tagged fish, and a 3D hydrodynamic model of the Chief Joseph Dam to support evaluations of fish passage. This project will help promote the health of local habitats and waters by restoring key ecosystem processes and benefit local communities and industry that rely on Columbia River salmon.

In this project, PNNL will aid the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission in Pacific lamprey restoration efforts by developing and testing a collection device for larval and juvenile lamprey. The Pacific lamprey is a cultural keystone species to some tribes in the Pacific Northwest, but populations have declined in recent decades. PNNL will seek guidance from NOAA Fisheries as well as various tribal organizations, including the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and their member tribes of Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.

In this project, ORNL will partner with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to develop a database of barriers and fish species movement needs on Tribal lands. The objectives of this work are to create a model of cumulative barrier effects on fish passage, assess hydropower potential by examining ecological and cultural needs, and optimize fish passage and hydropower assets on the reservation. The project team includes two members from EBCI who will ensure cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors most important to the Tribe are prioritized. The results of this work will also be disseminated to Tribal communities and directly supports the EBCI’s energy and environmental goals.

Topic: Hydrologic System Science and Climate Change

In this project, PNNL and ORNL will establish a framework that can be used to measure a watershed’s intelligence, defined as basin-scale data necessary for climate, hydrologic, and power systems modeling to support our understanding of climate change impacts on hydropower operations. This project will prioritize research and technology development goals for creating intelligent watersheds and explore the implementation of intelligent watersheds within human-managed systems. The framework will also include environmental justice metrics. The project will also create an advisory committee to ensure diversity is reflected in the communities this tool will benefit.

Topic: Hydropower Component Wear and Fatigue Modeling

In this project, PNNL will use analysis modeling of hydropower systems to create wear-and-fatigue estimations of critical hydropower components. The resulting model will aid plant owners in determining the impacts of wear and fatigue on plant components, based on different operations and market participation strategies, and will help them equip their units to be ready for future power systems requirements.

In this project, Argonne and INL will use fleet-wide and plant-level sensor data provided by the Hydropower Research Institute (HRI) and industry partners to generate empirical degradation models and combine them with physical models to inform predictive maintenance practices. This will enable commercial adoption and allow smaller companies to use the toolset. Idaho Power Co. will perform a pilot project case study to be used as a representative example.

Topic: Cybersecurity for Hydropower and Dams

In this project, INL plans to use several industry-accepted technologies to develop a repeatable cybersecurity approach to improve the depth-of-defense and overall cyber-maturity level of the hydropower industry. The resulting tool will be capable of helping to identify cyber threats and vulnerabilities through improved situational awareness at the peer-to-peer (IP/Ethernet) level and lower level (serial) communications.

In this project, PNNL will incorporate a realistic, remotely interactive, scaled hydropower cybersecurity test range developed by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency. The goal of this proposal is to deliver engaging training, outreach, and recruiting events to diverse audiences nationwide, including minority-serving institutions, and conduct training events at industry conferences. The project aims to allow hydropower industry trainees to interact with control system hardware in realistic threat scenarios to better prepare them to protect the facilities they serve.

In this project, NREL plans to develop a user-friendly online platform for cybersecurity data visualization and threat detection. The resulting product is expected to be a plug-and-play tool for demonstration and possible commercialization.

Marine Energy Lab Call Selections

The 11 marine energy projects cover four topic areas and include the following:

Topic: Power at Sea

In this project, PNNL will partner with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to assess the feasibility of using marine energy for community-scale aquaculture projects in the Salish Sea, develop outreach and education material for the general public, and synthesize lessons to support sustainable practices for aquaculture projects in the Pacific Northwest.

In this project, PNNL will partner with Sandia and the University of Guam to investigate if the planned Guam Aquaculture Innovation Center could be powered by ocean thermal energy conversion or wave energy. The project will also assess potential environmental impacts, economic factors, and infrastructure needs associated with installing ocean energy systems to power the island’s developing aquaculture facilities. Those findings will be summarized in a report.

In this project, Argonne will partner with Florida Atlantic University, Gulfstream Aquaculture, and Pinkerton Computer Consultants to determine the potential for co-locating and powering offshore fish farms with ocean thermal energy conversion in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits, Puerto Rico Trench, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

PNNL will partner with the University of Washington and Ebb Carbon to investigate ways to balance the carbon footprint and costs of bipolar membrane electrodialysis (BPMED). BPMED is a process that can enhance ocean alkalinity and eventual carbon dioxide capture from the atmosphere. Researchers are currently looking into powering it with marine energy. However, BPMED also generates acid waste. This project will test whether reusing this acid waste can enhance growth rates of marine algae to achieve additional carbon capture, as well as generate material for extracting uranium and lithium from seawater.

PNNL will partner with Makai Engineering and Ocean Era to assess the feasibility and design needs for developing an ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) platform system that can serve multiple end-uses in addition to power generation, such as aquaculture, desalination, e-fuel production and seawater air conditioning. Using the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority’s existing OTEC system, the project will create a roadmap for permitting and licensing OTEC platforms in U.S. tropical waters, demonstrate benefits and values for OTEC byproducts, and draft recommendations to develop the first U.S. ocean thermal energy conversion multi-use platform.

NREL will partner with Keuka Energy and Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering to design and evaluate a novel buoyancy-driven submersible technology to extract energy from ocean thermal gradients. The team will develop thermodynamic and heat transfer models to demonstrate the technology’s ability to supply energy to aquaculture farms, reducing or replacing fossil fuel-powered generation.

Topic: New Remote Coastal Community Work – Microgrid Application

INL, in partnership with Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Idaho State University, and Xendee (a microgrid decision support software platform), is developing a microgrid design and integration toolkit to streamline feasibility and pre-deployment scoping activities for microgrids integrating marine energy technologies. The cross-disciplinary toolkit will combine marine energy microgrid technology with techno-economic analysis, microgrid stability analysis, and alignment with community values and energy priorities.

NREL is partnering with the University of California, Irvine, and Ocean Renewable Power Company to assess, validate, and advance marine energy combined with hydrogen-based, grid-forming assets as a viable and near-term solution for powering remote and coastal communities. Specifically, the project will identify and assess case studies, undertake cost-benefit analyses, and develop a test setup that validates ME device performance with hydrogen production, scale grid-forming assets sufficient for the community's needs, and identify the additional infrastructure required to support an integrated ME and hydrogen system for remote, coastal, and island communities.

PNNL is partnering with the North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council to provide a framework that includes both community needs and technical evaluations in an integrated analysis workflow for marine energy projects in remote coastal communities. The project will focus on state-of-the art approaches to optimizing resource characterization to improve remote grid operations, and novel dispatch and planning approaches to distributed grid infrastructure for greater microgrid and remote power resilience.

Topic: Pioneer Array Test Article Design and Development, Phase I

Sandia is working with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to develop a wave energy converter to power the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s Pioneer Array of ocean observation devices. The Array, previously located off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, is being moved off the North Carolinian coast in 2024. Here, the collection of ocean-observing devices, which include buoys, AUVs, and gliders, will collect ocean data available for public use. Currently, the Pioneer Array is powered by wind, solar, and battery power. Incorporating wave energy will help to eliminate any downtime from the device and its sensors.


Topic: Environmental Monitoring Campaign

PNNL is partnering with NREL, Sandia, Oregon State University, and University of Hawaii at Manoa on consistent data collection and analysis of key stressors associated with marine energy devices. During Phase 1, the research team will identify key stressor measurements for each deployment, which will inform Phase 2. In Phase 2, the team will specify the appropriate technologies, sensors, and methods for data collection. Details for data analyses and storage and dissemination steps for the field campaign results will also be finalized. Pending WPTO approval, Phase 3 will commence and include mobilization, field data collection, demobilization, and results reporting.

Marine Energy Saplings

The nine Sapling projects cover four activity areas within WPTO’s Marine Energy Program and include the following:

Activity Area: Data Access, Analytics, and Workforce Development

Sandia will continue developing a digital tool for characterizing design loads and determining the design load requirements of marine energy devices, focusing on tidal energy systems. The resulting tool will be fully functional and incorporate both wave and tidal energy conversion design loads.

Activity Area: Foundational R&D

PNNL will expand a cost-saving, nonchemical technique called laser surface processing (LSP), which improves corrosion resistance of aluminum alloys in marine environments. This project will analyze the impacts of LSP on steels.

PNNL will address commercial needs for the blue economy and aquaculture with the previously developed flexible superhydrophobic lubricant-infused composite—or FlexiSLIC—coating by optimizing durability, nontoxicity, and antifouling properties. It will also conduct testing in the lab and the ocean, and work with commercial partners to test the coating on nets and ropes.

Sandia will advance its tidal energy resource assessment analysis, which determines the sensitivity of tidal current measurement methods. This project will involve additional analyses of numerical data to characterize error and will validate these analyses with field measurements in the Savannah River in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Activity Area: Reducing Barriers to Testing

PNNL will adapt existing Lab-on-a-Fish (LOAF) biosensor technology, which monitors and transmits data on fish physiology, behavior, and environmental variables, for aquaculture applications by updating hardware and firmware to accelerate its commercialization. This proposed technology could also expand the capability of investigating marine animals’ movement and physiological behavior at existing or potential aquaculture and marine energy sites with high temporal and spatial resolutions.

Activity Area: Technology-Specific Design and Validation

NREL will develop and demonstrate a working prototype of a Thermomagnetic Generator (TMG) to convert thermal energy into electrical energy for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). These devices can operate at temperature differences as low as 2 degrees Celsius and offer a potential solution for blue economy applications, such as ocean observation.

PNNL is continuing to develop triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which are relatively easy to fabricate, low cost, and have versatile materials and structure choices compared to conventional electromagnetic generators. TENGs are particularly advantageous in low-frequency waves and randomly directed wave motions. This project will develop an integrated energy harvester, sensor, and communications system in a buoy and test it in a wave tank.

PNNL, in partnership with coastal ocean farms, will develop a demonstration project plan where tidal power could be used at a kelp or oyster farm. Power needs are critical for ocean farming systems, but farms are typically located where tidal currents are too slow for existing technologies to convert into energy. This project will test a tidal energy device prototype specifically suited to low velocity tidal currents that are expected to occur at farm sites.

NREL previously demonstrated the VGOSWEC's load-shedding ability in large wave environments through a series of tests in a wave tank. In this Sapling project, NREL will conduct a hydrodynamic redesign of the VGOSWEC, redesign the tank model, perform wave tank testing, and conduct additional customer discovery activities.

Hydropower Seedlings

The 21 seedling projects cover four topic areas and include the following:

Topic: Basin-Scale Monitoring and Modeling

Argonne will develop an algorithm to identify the most influential basins for a given hydrologic system. This work will help modelers identify the appropriate scope of data needed to establish efficient and reliable streamflow forecast models with fewer uncertainties. 

ORNL aims to gain insight for hydropower generation and reservoir operation by examining and demonstrating the applicability of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool. The team will develop a proof-of-concept modeling framework to model the impact of climate change on water quality and assess the risks to hydropower reservoir operations.

ORNL will develop a machine learning streamflow forecast model for hydropower operations through the integration of long-term historical observations of weather, climate, and watershed and meteorological forecasts. The team will apply the model to two multipurpose reservoirs in the southeast United States as a proof of concept.

ORNL will develop a modeling framework that integrates atmospheric, hydrological, and statistical analysis to estimate future flood hazards at dam locations and associated uncertainties. The work will benefit other researchers with similar assessments and provide WPTO and other stakeholders with a scalable tool.

PNNL will optimize source-water recharge (a mitigation method accomplished by storing water in aquifers when water is abundant and withdrawing when needed) efficiency by improving basin-scale monitoring and modeling through geophysical sensing and integrated sensor network monitoring. The team will use numerical models to demonstrate how source-water recharge sites could impact streamflow, showing how geophysical tools can be used to optimize locations and operations.

Topic: Powering Non-Powered Dams (NPDs)

INL will examine the feasibility of using retrofitted NPDs as black start resources. The work will focus on learning NPD technical characteristics required to be a black start candidate, examining the potential for electric energy storage technologies to enhance NPD black start capabilities, using geographic information system databases to study the proximity of NPDs to critical facilities, and examining smaller-capacity NPDs that are less likely to be developed for generation. INL will then produce a memo with data and conclusions that defensibly show NPDs as viable candidates for providing black start support.

INL and ORNL will analyze different archetypes of NPD retrofits for financial performance and viability. The results will lead to a tool prototype that can assist project teams and WPTO evaluate and encourage the financial viability of specific NPD retrofits.

ORNL will review existing sedimentation datasets to evaluate gaps and opportunities for addressing sedimentation at hydropower reservoirs. The team will estimate sedimentation risk at existing NPDs that are suitable for retrofit and develop a plan to improve the technological advancement of sediment mitigation technologies. The team will then map these structures.

ORNL will design, model, simulate, and analyze a novel hydropower and energy storage system that combines modular, variable speed generators with multiple power electric converters. This result will be an enabling technology for powering NPDs with high-efficiency, low-cost, seamless energy storage integration to create a better hydropower investment.

PNNL will develop a catalog of potential value streams associated with powering NPDs. The catalog will provide a readily accessible database for NPD owners, hydropower project developers, and investors. The team will also provide descriptions of how to quantify these value streams and demonstrate this quantification on several select locations.

PNNL will examine existing lock-filling and water-emptying infrastructure for the potential to develop additional hydropower generation throughout the country. The project team will provide a report of the results, along with a list of potential sites that may be optimal for the dual purpose of navigation and hydropower generation.

Topic: Continued Seedling

PNNL will continue its work to develop simulation tools to support financial decision makers in prioritizing dam safety projects. This phase will complete the development of tools required to execute a nationwide dam safety benefit analysis and test the scalability, uncertainty, and applicability of tools previously developed.

PNNL’s previous work evaluated commercially available satellite transmitters, designed a benchtop prototype transmitter, formulated an algorithm to generate theoretical transmit power, and tested an algorithm based on successful transmissions with different gain offsets. This phase of the project will design a fully integrated satellite telemetry transmitter, build a fully encapsulated prototype, and evaluate its engineering performance in freshwater environments.

PNNL will continue its work to reduce wildfire risk through forest management to improve the volume and timing of inflow to the Columbia River hydrosystem. This phase of the project will estimate the potential increase in hydropower production associated with specific forest thinning scenarios under a changing climate. This analysis will focus on NPDs and low- or no-head hydropower production to characterize variable generation potential across the Columbia Basin.

Topic: Open Topic

Argonne will enhance the Weekly Water Management Tools to improve water release and planning decisions. These improvements will help operators better manage their reservoirs under prolonged drought conditions and extreme weather events.

INL will raise awareness of the hydropower industry through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach, use science to help remove negative stigmas related to hydropower, and by engage with schools and communities that do not have opportunities to learn about hydropower. This will be achieved by partnering with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and organizing education seminars and demonstrations for high school students to raise interest in the industry and renewables.

NREL will develop a comprehensive and systematic roadmap for developing tools and data to understand and address water equity and justice. An inventory of quantitative socioeconomic data centered on water insecurity, affordability, accessibility, and availability will be conducted to develop this roadmap. The roadmap will then be used to conduct studies that overlay hydropower technologies, socio-economic indicators, and resource availability to identify opportunities where hydropower development can benefit and increase resilience in disadvantaged communities and minimize the risk from water inequities.

PNNL will increase awareness and interest in hydropower careers through displays and activities inspired by the lab’s own research. Six PNNL hydropower researchers will be trained as STEM ambassadors and will use the displays and supplemental classroom material to engage with upper elementary and high school students.

PNNL will develop a set of best practices and guidance for designing, implementing, and evaluating Indigenous partnerships in WPTO-funded projects. This approach will be applied to a case study through a partnership with the International Western and Indigenous Science Hub for fisheries management and conservation of aquatic systems. WPTO project leaders will then implement the resulting framework to evaluate strategic partnerships and improve engagement.

PNNL will investigate the utility of measuring carbon and oxygen in otoliths (fish inner ear structures also known as ‘ear stones’) from salmon to study fish metabolism. The team will use information from this study to understand the relationships between environmental factors associated with hydropower operations, such as temperature, which is being explored in this laboratory study, and individual fish metabolism to explore potential effects to migration timing and survival as returning adults.

PNNL will identify the opportunities and barriers for improving fish passage at hydropower facilities by characterizing communication networks among the hydropower community. The team will conduct a series of interviews and a network analysis to map the communication pathways and information exchanged during hydropower permitting to understand technology acceptance, perceptions of information (e.g., reliability, impact), and decision-making criteria.

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Editor’s note: Two additional hydropower seedlings projects were selected after this article’s initial publication date.