The 2019-2020 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) Accomplishments report provides a compilation of some important successes within WPTO's research and development efforts for both the hydropower and marine energy industries.

Letter from the Water Power Technologies Office Director, Alejandro Moreno

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), I am delighted to present our 2019–2020 Accomplishments Report. In this report, we summarize some of the significant results from WPTO-supported research across the Hydropower and Marine Energy (formerly the Marine and Hydrokinetics) programs. While not intended to be a comprehensive overview of all the impactful projects within WPTO’s portfolio, this report highlights some of the achievements from the past 2 years. These accomplishments include successful laboratory and in-water tests of promising technologies, commercialization of environmental monitoring instrumentation, the release of new modeling code and decision-support tools, and efforts to improve open access to data. Many of these projects were supported through our traditional funding opportunity announcements, as well as by leveraging a variety of support mechanisms such as prizes, competitions, and notices of technical assistance.

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Hydropower Program

Hydropower is the United States’ oldest source of renewable electricity, comprising nearly 7% of U.S. generation. In 2018, hydropower accounted for roughly 40% of U.S. renewable electricity generation, whereas pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) remains the largest contributor to U.S. energy storage with an installed capacity of 21.6 gigawatts (GW), or roughly 95% of all commercial storage capacity in the United States.

High Rock Dam at sunset.

The Hydropower Program at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) conducts early-stage research and development (R&D) and applied science to advance transformative, cost-effective, reliable, and environmentally sustainable hydropower and pumped-storage technologies; better understand and capitalize on opportunities for these technologies to support the nation’s rapidly evolving grid; and improve energy-water infrastructure and security. The vision of the Hydropower Program is a U.S. hydropower and pumped-storage industry that modernizes and safely maintains existing assets; responsibly develops new low-impact hydropower; promotes environmental sustainability; and supports grid reliability, integration of other energy resources, and energy-water systems resilience.

To achieve the mission and realize the vision, the Hydropower Program comprises five R&D activity areas, which represent the program’s strategic approach to addressing the challenges faced by U.S. hydropower stakeholders. Success stories within this year’s publication are presented within these activity areas:

Grid Reliability, Resilience, Integration, & Storage

Shoring Up Resilience Through Hydropower and PSH
Rapid changes in the U.S. electricity system have created new needs for grid services that hydropower and PSH are well-suited to provide.
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Seeking Solutions for FAST Pumped-Storage Hydro Development
In October 2019, WPTO selected four grand prize winners for the Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for PSH Prize.
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Creating Real Value with Virtual Reservoirs
Three national laboratories are demonstrating the technical and economic benefit of integrating run-of-river plants with energy storage.
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Pumped-Storage Hydropower GLIDES to Market
The GLIDES project investigated a new form of PSH with promising estimated returns on investment for potential future commercial projects.
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Cutting Construction Costs, Timelines for PSH Development
Obermeyer Hydro, Inc.’s novel PSH system reduces capital costs, negative environmental impacts, and geological risks associated with PSH development.
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Assessing Environmental Impacts for PSH
A new study distinguishes between different PSH configurations and discusses ways to minimize potential effects on the environment.
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Environmental & Hydrologic Systems Science

National Labs Commercialize Environmental Evaluation Tools
Under the HydroPASSAGE project, PNNL and ORNL are providing new information that can be used to increase fish survival and lower operational costs.
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Analyzing Sensitive Species at Dams via Artificial Intelligence
The Electric Power Institute (EPRI) has successfully automated identification processes for young American eel tracked with multi-beam sonar.
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Acoustic Transmitter Improves Juvenile Fish Tracking and Analysis
PNNL has completed the development of new, highly miniaturized fish-tags, able to be quickly injected, even into tiny juvenile eel and lamprey.
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Collaborative Interagency Prize Solicits Solutions for Protecting Fish
In 2020, three winners were selected for the Fish Protection Prize, a competition soliciting ideas to protect fish from water infrastructure.
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Autonomous Oxygen Sensor Enables Safe, Timely Data Collection
In late 2019, PNNL’s new autonomous, mobile, water quality sensor platform was field-tested for the first time.
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Fleet Modernization, Maintenance, & Cybersecurity

Extending the Service Life of Hydropower Components
In 2019, PNNL successfully identified techniques to reduce cavitation erosion, improving performance and service life of hydropower components.
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Hydropower Data Access & Analytics

DOE Publishes Hydropower and Pumped Storage Data
WPTO published the U.S. Hydropower Market Report, which compiled data from public and commercial sources as well as DOE R&D projects.
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Innovations for Low-Impact Hydropower Growth

Prize Lowers Costs, Improves Performance of Hydropower Components
In December 2020, WPTO announced 11 winners of the I AM Hydro Prize, a competition designed to help strengthen hydropower technologies.
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Penn State’s Modular, Scalable, Rapidly Deployable Hydropower System
Pennsylvania State University has manufactured and validated a novel hydropower turbine-generator which can be deployed at various low-head sites.
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The 21st Century Archimedes Screw
An Archimedes Hydrodynamic Screw turbine, using composite materials and advanced manufacturing methods, is reducing costs and improving efficiency.
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For an abridged overview of the Hydropower Program’s successes, please see the Hydropower Program’s 2019–2020 Accomplishments Brochure.

 

Marine Energy Program

Marine energy technologies are at an early stage of development because of the fundamental challenges of generating power from a dynamic, low-velocity, and high-density resource while withstanding corrosive marine environments. These challenges are intensified by high costs and lengthy permitting processes associated with in-water testing.

RivGen on the river on a clear day.

The vision of the WPTO Marine Energy Program (formerly the Marine and Hydrokinetics Program) is a U.S. marine and hydrokinetic industry that expands and diversifies the nation’s energy portfolio by responsibly delivering power from ocean and river resources. To help realize the vision, the Marine Energy Program conducts transformative early-stage research that advances the development of reliable, cost-competitive marine energy technologies and reduces barriers to deployment. The Marine Energy Program comprises four core R&D activity areas and one initiative that represent the program’s strategic approach to addressing the challenges faced by U.S. marine and hydrokinetic stakeholders.

Success stories within this year’s publication are presented within these areas:

Powering the Blue Economy

WPTO-led Initiative Drives Blue Economy Growth and Innovation
WPTO’s Powering the Blue Economy™ initiative has granted more than 85 awards and built new partnerships to catalyze innovation in marine energy.
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WPTO Prize Unveils Promising Wave-Powered Desalination Designs
The Waves to Water Prize is a five-stage prize to accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems.
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WPTO-NOAA Prize Incentivizes Improved Hurricane Monitoring Technology
The Ocean Observing Prize is a competition designed to incentivize the development of marine energy-powered, self-charging ocean observing platforms.
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First-Ever Marine Energy Collegiate Competition Engaged 100+ Students
The Marine Energy Collegiate Competition is challenging university students to propose technical solutions and business cases for marine energy.
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Reducing Barriers to Testing

Wave Energy Test Site Advances Toward 2022 Commissioning
Oregon State University has completed the design phase of PacWave South, a grid-connected and pre-permitted wave energy test facility.
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Field Tests Demonstrate Performance of Environmental Monitoring Technologies
The PNNL-led Triton Initiative is supporting the development of more precise and cost-effective marine energy environmental monitoring technologies.
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3rd International State of the Science Report Released
In September 2020, on behalf of the International Energy Agency’s OES collaborative, PNNL released the 2020 State of the Science Report.
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Sandia Develops Method for Quantifying Marine Energy Noise
Sandia National Labs has released reports, open-source codes, and trainings to help quantify MRE device interactions and noise in marine environments.
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Foundational R&D

Co-Design is Key for Future Wave Energy Systems
From 2014 to 2020, Sandia National Labs and MRE developer Re Vision Consulting investigated advanced controls techniques in wave energy systems.
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Resource Mapping Expands U.S. Wave Energy Estimates
In 2020, WPTO’s multi-lab resource characterization project released the highest resolution, most comprehensive wave dataset publicly available.
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Technology-Specific System Design & Validation

River Hydrokinetics Reduce Dependence on Diesel in Alaska
In 2019, the Alaskan village of Igiugig worked with Ocean Renewable Power Company to deploy the RivGen® Power System.
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Land-Based Test of a Wave Energy Converter
In 2019, NREL completed a multi-year system design and validation project with Columbia Power using the 5-megawatt dynamometer.
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Tidal Testing Underway in New York’s East River
In 2020, Verdant Power deployed their fifth generation Free Flow System turbines with their new TriFrame™ mount in New York’s East River.
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Marine Energy Data Access & Analytics

Multi-Lab Partnership Launches Portal for Marine Energy Information
WPTO supported the creation of PRIMRE, a Portal and Repository for Information on Marine Renewable Energy.
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WPTO Creates STEM Workforce Development Portals
In 2020, NREL released new STEM and workforce development portals for both marine energy and hydropower.
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For an abridged overview of the Marine Energy Program’s successes, please see the Marine Energy Program’s 2019–2020 Accomplishments Brochure.