DOE Hydropower Vision report

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a report on the future of domestic hydropower.  Its Hydropower Vision finds that U.S. hydropower could grow from 101 gigawatts of capacity in 2015 to nearly 150 gigawatts by 2050.  More than 50% of this growth could be realized by 2030, according to the report.  Much of the new capacity would come from pumped storage, with the remainder coming from upgrades to existing plants, adding power at existing dams and canals, and "limited development of new stream-reaches."

DOE's Wind and Water Power Technologies Office describes its report, Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s First Renewable Electricity Source, as presenting "a first-of-its-kind comprehen sive analysis to evaluate future pathways for low-carbon, renewable hydropower (hydropower generation and pumped storage) in the United States, focused on continued technical evolution, increased energy market value, and environmental sustainability." While it does not evaluate or recommend new policy actions, the report does analyze the "feasbility and certain benefits and costs of various credible scenarios, all of which could inform policy decisions at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels."

The report's Executive Summary presents an overview of the report, and its three "pillars" or foundational principles developed in collaboration with stakeholders: optimizing the value and power generation contribution of the existing hydropower fleet, exploring the feasibility of "credible long-term deployment scenarios for responsible growth of hydropower capacity and energy production," and sustainability.  Analyzing data and modeled scenarios, the report found that "under a credible modeled scenario in which technology advancement lowers capital and operating costs, innovative market mechanisms increase revenue and lower financing costs, and a combination of environmental considerations are taken into account—U.S. hydropower including PSH could grow from 101 GW of capacity in 2015 to 150 GW by 2050."

Chapter 1 of the Hydropower Vision describes how technical resource assessments and computational models can be used to interpret hydropower's future market potential.  It also evaluates potential innovations or nontraditional approaches to technology and project development that could affect the future development of new hydropower projects.

Chapter 2 of the Hydropower Vision presents a snapshot of the state of the U.S. hydropower industry as of year-end 2015, from the Energy Department's perspective.  It notes that hydropower generation and pumped storage have "provided a stable and consistently low-cost energy source throughout decades of fluctuations and fundamental shifts in the electric sector, supporting development of the U.S. power grid and the nation’s industrial growth in the 20th century and into the 21st century." The report points to 2015 data showing 2,198 active hydropower plants in the U.S. with a total capacity of 79.6 gigawatts, plus 42 pumped storage hydro plants totaling another 21.6 gigawatts.  In 2015, hydropower provided about 6.2% of net U.S. electricity generation, and 48% of all U.S. renewable power.

Chapter 3 of the report explores over 50 possible future scenarios for the hydropower industry, to assess the nation's hydropower potential.  It presents an extensive body of analysis, considering potential contributions over time to the electric sector of both the existing hydropower fleet and new hydropower deployment resulting from: upgrades at existing plants, powering of non-powered dams (NPD), pumped storage hydropower (PSH), and new stream-reach development (NSD).  It found that the greatest influence on potential growth scenarios comes from 3 variables: technological innovation, environmental considerations, and financial improvement.

The report's fourth chapter lays out a roadmap of 64 potential actions for stakeholder consideration, "to optimize hydropower’s continued contribution to a clean, reliable, low-carbon, domestic energy generation portfolio while ensuring that the nation’s natural resources are adequately protected or conserved."  These actions are organized around 5 topical areas: technology advancement, sustainable development and operation, enhanced revenue and market structures, regulatory process optimization, and enhanced collaboration, education, and outreach.

As noted by the Energy Department, while utility-scale battery storage projects are starting to be developed, most U.S. electricity storage capacity takes the form of pumped storage.  Flexible and reliable generating or storage resources can support efforts to integrate increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, into the grid.

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