U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Commercialization & Deployment

Hydropower Gets a $5 Million Energy Department Opportunity

April 18, 2012

The Energy Department on April 17 announced that up to $5 million is available this year to assess opportunities to increase power production at up to 40 existing hydropower facilities around the nation. Through this competitive funding opportunity, the Energy Department will work with hydropower professionals to conduct standardized assessments to identify opportunities to increase generation and value at hydropower plants.

As much of America's aging hydropower infrastructure is more than 50 years old, this effort could help accelerate the deployment of upgrades at existing hydropower facilities, creating jobs and increasing the supply of renewable energy to American families and businesses. Conventional hydropower already supplies more than 6% of the nation's electricity. The assessments to be completed through this solicitation are part of the Energy Department's larger Hydropower Advancement Project, which seeks to accelerate the improvement and expansion of U.S. hydropower plants. See the DOE Progress Alert and Funding Opportunity Announcement.

Also, the Energy Department on April 17 released a report detailing the potential to develop electric power generation at existing U.S. dams that aren't equipped to produce power. The renewable assessment estimates that without building a single new dam, the available hydropower resources could provide more than 12 gigawatts (GW) if fully developed. That total would be roughly 15% of current U.S. hydropower capacity.

The report, titled An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States, analyzes more than 54,000 sites that could be developed to generate power. The results indicate that the non-powered dams could provide enough energy to power over four million households. The greatest hydropower potential was found at locks and dams on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas rivers in facilities owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The top ten sites alone have the potential to provide approximately 3 GW of generating capacity, while the top 100 sites together could potentially provide 8 GW. Many of these dams could also likely be converted to power-generating facilities with minimal impact to critical species, habitats, parks, or wilderness areas.

The assessment by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in partnership with Idaho National Laboratory also concludes that many potential hydropower sites are in areas with fewer wind or solar resources. And because hydropower provides reliable baseload power day and night, developing existing dams could also provide flexibility to the electric grid, and allow utilities to integrate other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. See the Energy Department press release and the full reportPDF.