HydroWIRES Initiative

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Logo for HydroWIRES Initiative.

The U.S. electricity system is rapidly evolving, bringing both opportunities and challenges for hydropower and pumped storage hydropower (PSH). The changing electric grid has created an increasing need for flexible generation and storage resources that can balance the system and provide a range of other grid services. Hydropower is a renewable resource capable of offering a host of flexibility services such as ramping, frequency response, and black start that can support grid reliability. PSH is also highly complementary to other forms of renewable energy and offers storage capabilities that can reduce curtailment and support the integration of a larger share of variable energy resources.

However, the specific design and operational attributes that may prove most useful within the future power system are not well understood. This uncertainty can result in plant and fleet-wide inefficiencies in how existing power and ancillary services are evaluated, procured, and compensated. Quantifying the value of hydropower and PSH within future power systems will enable more efficient planning and operations and will provide needed inferences into how future research and development (R&D) should be directed.

Given these challenges and opportunities, the Water Power Technologies Office’s (WPTO) approach is to develop a research initiative focused on understanding and enabling utilization of the full potential of hydropower and PSH to contribute to electric system reliability and resilience, now and into the future. The HydroWIRES (Water Innovation for a Resilient Electricity System) portfolio is organized into four interrelated research areas. Structurally, the first two research areas establish a critical, baseline understanding of what range of services may be most valuable for the future grid (depending on different ways it may evolve), together with what services hydropower can (and cannot) contribute. Defining the interrelated structure of those two research spaces provides needed insights into which services and attributes that the hydropower fleet can and should be prioritizing. The third research area establishes a bridge between the previous research spaces in defining how findings can be operationalized—given better information on what grid services or flexibility the future grid may need, and what grid services hydropower can provide, Research Area 3 illustrates how the fleet can most aptly take advantage of available opportunities, in terms of both operations and planning. The final research area integrates the findings from the previous three spaces in order to inform technology development and innovation that can expand hydropower and pumped storage technologies abilities to provide valuable grid services. 

HydroWIRES Research Roadmap

The HydroWIRES Research Roadmap is being developed in order to provide context, guidance, and organization for the initiative at large. WPTO intends to seek input on the technical organization and aims of the HydroWIRES research initiative—commenters will be invited to review the draft roadmap and submit comments regarding the content, merit and priority of the work described, as well as submit critical topics that are not well captured.

Open Funding Opportunities

Water Power Technologies Office 2019 Research Funding Opportunity

DOE announced up to $26.1 million in funding to drive innovative industry-led technology solutions to advance the marine and hydrokinetics industry, and increase hydropower’s ability to serve as a flexible grid resource. The funding will support projects in four Areas of Interest—Hydropower Operational Flexibility, Low Head Hydropower and In-Stream Hydrokinetic Technologies, Advancing Wave Energy Device Design, and Marine Energy Centers Research Infrastructure Upgrades—to increase affordability of hydropower and marine energy, strengthen U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and build on Department-wide storage initiatives, which focus on improving the capabilities of technologies to deliver value to the grid.

Hydropower has significant capabilities for flexible operation, making it well-positioned to contribute to system reliability and resilience in an evolving electricity system. Today, the complexity of multi-use constraints affects many hydropower plants, and together with the wide variability in plant configurations across the fleet, understanding the fleet’s potential for flexibility is a formidable challenge. The Hydropower Operational Flexibility Area of Interest and its Sub-Areas of Interest, in particular, seeks to quantify the flexible capabilities of hydropower and advance operational strategies to increase such flexibility to better serve an evolving grid.

  • Area of Interest 1a, Quantify Hydropower Capabilities for Operational Flexibility, seeks a comprehensive framework to catalog and account for the different types of flexibility that hydropower plants can provide.
  • Area of Interest 1b, Operational Strategies for Increasing Hydropower Flexibility, seeks research and development of operational strategies that enable enhanced provision of flexibility services at individual hydropower plants or combinations of plants within the fleet.


Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped-Storage Hydropower (PSH) Prize

The Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped-Storage Hydropower (PSH) Prize aims to attract ideas to reduce the time, cost, and risk required to commission PSH projects. This is the first prize of its kind and is structured to support anyone with a great idea and the motivation to develop their idea into a full business concept.

Today’s electricity system is changing rapidly and hydropower and PSH have an essential role in contributing to the resilience, reliability, and affordability of the U.S. power system. PSH is by far the largest source of energy storage on the grid, and it will play a key role in supporting increased integration of variable generation resources. But large capital investments and long lead times for PSH commissioning are deterrents to would-be developers and utilities.

The goal of the prize is to catalyze new solutions, designs, and strategies to accelerate PSH development by reducing the time, cost and risk to commission PSH. Ideas could include innovative PSH ideas, new layouts, creative construction management, improved construction equipment, application of advanced manufacturing, or standardization of equipment.


  • Hydropower Plants as Black Start Resources - identifies the advantages of using hydroelectric power for black start and compares hydropower with other types of power plants for providing this valuable service to ensure the resiliency of the power grid. The report provides an overview of the critical role of black start capability to ensure timely restoration of grid operation after a major power grid outage. 
Research Areas
Illustration of HydroWIRES Diagram

Research Area 1: Value Under Future Power System Conditions—What will the future grid need, and how will these needs be valued?

Research Area 1 focuses on understanding the variety of grid services that may be most important for the future grid, which will depend significantly on the future generation mix—including the share of variable renewables—together with other system conditions. Fundamental to Research Area 1 as well as for the other research areas is the development of a complete categorization of benefits and grid services that hydropower can contribute to the electricity system. As the grid evolves, this area of research will analyze how associated economic drivers and changes within competitive markets affect the benefits and services that are of greatest value to the system. New, advanced valuation practices within the context of these changes are needed in order to most accurately consider the full range of contributions from hydropower and PSH assets.

Example Projects

Research Area 2: Plant Capabilities and Constraints—What can the hydropower fleet do, and why, in today’s grid and in the future?

Research Area 2 characterizes the capabilities of hydropower and PSH to provide the services identified in Research Area 1, particularly as they pertain to flexible generation and associated grid services. A vital component of this research is the development of a baseline assessment of plant-level hydropower capabilities--as well as associated constraints--to fully utilizing those capabilities. Research Area 2 also constitutes the advancement of tools for advanced hydraulic forecasting, along with more accurate approaches to characterizing hydropower within electric system operations and planning.

Example Projects

Research Area 3: Operations and Planning—How can planners and operators best take advantage of hydropower fleet capabilities?

Given the potential future needs of the grid in Research Area 1 and hydropower’s unique capabilities and constraints in Research Area 2, Research Area 3 focuses on developing innovative approaches to optimize planning and operations of hydropower from the plant level up to the fleet level. The essence of Research Area 3 is investigating the best role for hydropower to play to contribute to a future electricity system that will include many different classes of generation resources, each with their own unique capabilities. Work under Research Area 3 will quantify hydropower plant- and fleet-level contributions to support power system needs while also enabling enhancement of these capabilities through innovative operational strategies and planning approaches.

Example Projects

Research Area 4: Technology Innovation—What technology innovations are needed to both preserve and expand hydropower’s contributions to the power s

Research Area 4 concentrates on the development of innovative technologies and designs needed to maintain or expand hydropower’s contributions to the power system, such as by enabling more flexible operation. Key to the success of this research space is a gaps assessment, which leverages the cumulative efforts of the previous three research areas to synthesize critical technology gaps that limit unit and plant flexibility and identify high-value opportunities for innovative R&D solutions. Performance targets are informed by the previous three research areas to understand future system conditions, current capabilities, and hydropower’s role alongside other generation resources.   

Example Projects


HydroWIRES Team
Organization chart for HydroWIRES.

The HydroWIRES initiative leverages close engagement with five DOE National Laboratories—Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory—that work as a team to provide strategic insight and develop connections across the DOE portfolio that add significant value to the HydroWIRES initiative. Laboratory researchers serve as leaders of each research area, providing both technical leadership and strategic insight to inform the R&D portfolio and broader DOE efforts.

Intersection with DOE Initiatives

Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI)

HydroWIRES operates in conjunction with GMI, which focuses on the development of new architectural concepts, tools, and technologies that measure, analyze, predict, protect, and control the grid of the future, and on enabling the institutional conditions that allow for quicker development and widespread adoption of these tools and technologies.


Please email HydroWIRES@ee.doe.gov.