Reports on new funding by the DOE and the Department of Interior for various advanced hydro projects, including sustainable run of the river hydro and pumped storage as well. The announced $17 million in funding over the next three years is targeted for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology.

When people think of hydropower what typically comes to mind are huge massive dams backing up large scale reservoirs behind them. While by far most existing hydropower is from large dams there are other ways to harvest the renewable energy of water flowing down rivers, such as run of th eriver systems, and that have significantly less impact on the overall river ecology than massive dams do.

Hydropower is an important energy resource, and moving water packs much more power in it than air moving at the same speed, because water is 830 times denser than air. In terms of generation contribution it is by far the single most important renewable energy resource. But big dams and the ecological havoc that they often create have caused many people to view hydropower in a very poor light. As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest and has seen how the big dams up here along the Columbia/Snake river system have had a hugely negative impact on the river ecology of this region that once supported massive wild Salmon runs I share the concerns of environmentalists vis a vis damming rivers and in so doing disrupting the natural hydrological flows and conditions.

Which is why it is heartening to see small scale micro-hydro and run-of-the-river hydro finally getting some attention and a little bit of funding — small potatoes for sure compared to the big funding winners lining up at the federal trough, but important funding for this small but promising energy sector never the less.

One reason I support the research and development of low head small scale free river hydro is because of its low environmental impact on the river biosystems both aquatic and along the banks, wetlands and floodplains that are reached by the river. Another reason is because these systems are inherently smaller scale and distributed. Distributed generation helps the grid be more robust than it otherwise would be and is often produced closer to where power is needed as well.

The Advanced Hydropower Funding Announcement

US Department Energy Secretary Steven Chu and US Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today announced nearly $17 million in funding over the next three years for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology. Sixteen projects in 11 states were selected through a competitive grant process for their ability to contribute to the development of innovative technologies that produce hydropower more efficiently, reduce costs, and increase sustainable hydropower generation. The funding will help advance the Obama Administration’s goal of meeting 80% of our electricity needs from clean energy sources by 2035.

“By improving and deploying advanced hydropower technologies, we can maximize our use of this proven clean energy resource, create jobs, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Secretary Chu. “Hydropower can be used to store energy to help utilities better integrate other sources of renewable energy like wind and solar into the grid, improving our energy security and diversifying our clean energy resources.”

Related post: “Remember Hydropower? Proven and Cost-Effective Clean Energy“, takes a more in depth look at the significant hydro power potential in the US.

“This administration is supporting innovative development of hydropower—one of our largest renewable energy sources—with an emphasis on reducing or eliminating environmental impacts on ecosystems,” Secretary Salazar said. “These research and development dollars will help make hydropower technology more efficient and cost-effective as we continue to promote clean energy resources and build an American renewable energy economy in an environmentally responsible manner.”

These projects will advance sustainable renewable energy generation from small (less than 30 megawatts) hydropower resources, enhance environmental performance of hydropower, test innovative, cost-effective technologies for hydropower development at low-head (less than a 30 foot drop) sites such as irrigation canals and non-powered dams, and spur deployment of pumped storage hydropower. By allowing utility operators to pump water up to a dam or impoundment during periods of low electricity demand and release water during times of peak electricity demand, pumped storage hydropower improves the reliability of electric grids and helps increase the use of variable renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power.

Hydropower is a source of renewable energy that can be relied upon for long-term, stable production of domestic electricity. The hydropower industry currently employs more than 300,000 workers in the United States, making it not only the oldest, but also the largest renewable power generation workforce in the nation.

The selections announced today focus on four approaches to advancing hydropower in the United States:

  • Sustainable Small Hydropower: Nine projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $5.8 million and one project jointly funded by DOE and DOI will receive $1.5 million to research, develop, and test low-head, small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed at existing non-powered dams or constructed waterways. These projects will focus on system or component model development, as well as the real-world testing of these systems.
  • Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower: Two projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $6.8 million to spur deployment of advanced pumped storage hydropower in the United States. One award will conduct pre-construction, geotechnical evaluations for a pumped storage hydropower project in the early stages of development that will use advanced technology to dynamically respond to the electrical grid, enabling the integration of wind and solar energy. DOE is also supporting analyses that calculate the economic value of pumped storage hydropower.
  • Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower: Three projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $2 million to develop innovative hydropower technologies that will enhance environmental performance while increasing electricity generation, mitigating fish and habitat impacts and enhancing downstream water quality.
  • Advanced Hydropower System Testing at a Bureau of Reclamation Facility: One project jointly funded by DOE and DOI will receive $746,000 to support system tests of innovative, low-head, small hydropower technologies at a non-powered site owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. DOE’s funding is targeted at research and development, whereas the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding is targeted at implementation. Energy cost reductions demonstrated at this site could be replicated at other Bureau of Reclamation sites.

The complete listing of funded projects is listed here.