Hydropower—or power generated from the natural flow of water—is the United States’ oldest source of renewable electricity. In 2020, hydropower accounted for 37% of U.S. renewable electricity generation, while pumped storage hydropower remains the largest contributor to U.S. energy storage, representing roughly 93% of all commercial storage capacity in the United States.
Hydropower is a clean, renewable, domestic source of energy and provides enormous benefits to the country’s grid. Hydropower’s flexibility allows it to seamlessly integrate other energy sources and act as a force multiplier for other renewables, and makes it an invaluable resource for powering the grid after an outage. Despite hydropower being a well-established technology, it still has untapped potential and opportunity for growth; for example, less than 3% of the nation’s multi-purpose dams are also used to generation electricity, and the Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) estimates that adding generation to existing non-powered dams could add 4.8 GW of reliable, renewable electricity to the grid by 2050. Additional pumped storage hydropower can provide long-duration storage needed by the evolving grid, and preliminary studies suggest at least 35 GW of new PSH might be feasible.
The WPTO Hydropower Program works to advance hydropower through R&D projects focused on five core activity areas:
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