The U.S.­­­ electricity system is rapidly evolving, bringing both opportunities and challenges for the hydropower sector. While increasing deployment of variable renewables has enabled low-cost, clean energy in many U.S. regions, it has also created a need for resources that can store energy or quickly change their operations to ensure a reliable and resilient grid. Hydropower, including pumped-storage hydropower (PSH), is not only a supplier of bulk, low-cost, renewable energy, but also a source of large-scale flexibility and a force multiplier for other renewable power generation sources.

WPTO developed the HydroWIRES research areas with significant external input from both hydropower industry and power system stakeholders; they are motivated by pressing industry challenges. While the research areas are envisioned to flow sequentially, individual projects and reports may span multiple research areas.

HydroWIRES industry challenges overview in text.

Research Area Technical Objectives

HydroWIRES research technical objectives overview in text.

Research Area 1: Value under Evolving System Conditions

Understand the needs of the rapidly evolving grid and how they create opportunities for hydropower.

“What will the grid need?”

Rapid changes in the power system limit our ability to understand which reliability services and associated technical capabilities the grid will require; how this will differ from system to system; and how to accurately value those services. HydroWIRES will provide the hydropower industry and grid operators with the tools, data, and analysis to understand how evolving characteristics of the power system (e.g., levels of wind or solar penetration, distributed generation, market prices, transmission constraints, and industrial electrification) drive grid needs.

Research Area 2: Capabilities and Constraints

Investigate the full range of hydropower’s capabilities to provide grid services, as well as the machine, hydrologic, and institutional constraints to fully utilizing those capabilities.

"What can hydropower do?”

While reservoir hydropower plants are some of the most flexible resources on the grid, the inherent technical capabilities of the individual plants are often constrained by a combination of factors, including water availability (e.g., in a cascading system) or institutional requirements to use water for environmental flows, navigation, and other purposes. HydroWIRES will provide new and never before accumulated data from across the U.S. hydropower fleet to understand the range and limits of hydropower’s flexibility and identify opportunities at the plant and fleet level where flexibility and grid services can be increased.

Research Area 3: Operations and Planning

Optimize hydropower operations and planning—alongside other resources—to best utilize hydropower’s capabilities to provide grid services.

“How can hydropower operations and planning be optimized for grid needs?”

Given insights on what grid services will be needed as the system evolves (Research Area 1), combined with insights on the specific capabilities of the hydropower fleet, subject to associated constraints (Research Area 2), Research Area 3 brings these areas together by investigating appropriate “roles” for hydropower that align its capabilities with system needs.

While hydropower can provide many grid services, researchers need to better understand which grid services hydropower can most effectively and economically provide, as well as which services are best suited for other resource types. HydroWIRES will provide data and modeling tools to improve hydropower operations and planning—from both a project and power system perspective—to most effectively utilize hydropower’s capabilities to contribute to grid reliability and renewable energy integration.

Research Area 4: Technology Innovation

Invest in innovative technologies that improve hydropower capabilities to provide grid services.

“How can new hydropower and PSH technologies best meet new operational patterns?”

While hydropower is already a widely deployed technology, there is still significant need for innovation. Many plants in today’s fleet are designed primarily for steady generation in a narrow operating range, which can make them less suited for flexible operation for current grid needs. In addition, new PSH faces significant deployment challenges, including high capital costs and long lead-time to commissioning. HydroWIRES will invest in innovative technologies that improve hydropower capabilities to provide grid services.