By Elizabeth Ingram, Managing Editor, Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide
Expansion of hydroelectric power potential in the U.S. has faced some challenges in recent years. In fact, total generation from hydropower was lower in 2015, at 259,367 GWh, than in 2014, with 268,565 GWh, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although there is growth in new development, coming both from new greenfield development and rehabilitation/uprating of existing facilities, some of these gains have been offset recently by drought conditions in areas of the country caused primarily by El Niño.
Luckily, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been particularly active over the past couple of years in its support of the hydroelectric power industry. In fact, DOE is currently in the final stages of completing its long-range national Hydropower Vision. This vision “will establish the analytical basis for an ambitious roadmap to usher in a new era of growth in sustainable domestic hydropower over the next half century,” DOE says. This vision, two years in the making, will be officially unveiled to the hydropower industry at the HydroVision International 2016 event during the Opening Keynote Session on Tuesday, July 26 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit www.hydroevent.com for more information.
Another item intended to support hydropower that DOE is also launching at HydroVision International 2016 is the Hydropower Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop (RAPID) Toolkit. The Hydropower RAPID Toolkit documents and presents information on federal and state permits and regulatory approvals required for the development of hydropower projects. This toolkit builds on the Open Energy Information (OpenEI) wiki-based platform and has gone through significant beta testing. For a sneak peek, visit en.openei.org/wiki/RAPID.
In addition to the two above efforts, DOE has announced multiple funding opportunities for hydropower. For example, in April, DOE announced a new $3.5 million round of financing for its hydropower incentive program. This program is open to project owners and operators that produced hydroelectric power in 2015 from new equipment added to an existing dam or conduit constructed before 2005. The funding will be awarded as incentive payments based on kilowatt-hours of power generated in calendar year 2015, with qualified applicants eligible to receive 2.3 cents per kWh.
DOE is also strongly supporting the marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy industry. DOE’s Wave Energy Prize, announced in 2015, is progressing well, with nine teams named finalists (and two alternates) in March 2016. The prize offers a total purse of $2.25 million and is intended to stimulate a technology leap in the efficiency of wave energy converter devices, with a goal of realizing sweeping cost reductions and make wave energy competitive with more traditional forms of energy. Models of these technologies will be tested at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin beginning in August.
Another strong move to support MHK was the March 2016 DOE announcement of a $22 million funding opportunity for new MHK systems. The funding is intended to further research, development and demonstration for up to 10 MHK projects that generate electricity from waves, tidal flow and riverine systems. Companies or devices chosen to receive the funding would need to integrate next-generation MHK hardware and software technologies into existing systems and demonstrate improved systems in full-scale, open-water tests for a one-year period, as well as design, test and validate environmental monitoring technologies that quantify the impacts of MHK systems in marine settings and interactions between these devices and marine animals.
Both conventional hydropower and MHK were discussed in DOE’s recent Quadrennial Technology Review: An Assessment of Energy Technologies and Research Opportunities. This review examines the status of the science and technology that are the foundation of the U.S. energy system, together with the research, development, demonstration and deployment opportunities to advance them.
The report indicates that from 1949 to 2013, hydropower has provided 10.5 percent of cumulative U.S. power sector net generation. And as of 2014, with 78 GW of installed conventional hydro capacity and 22 GW of pumped storage capacity, hydropower provided 47 percent of all U.S. renewable power sector generation.
The review says opportunity exists to add up to 12 GW of capacity at existing non-powered dams and there is about 65 GW of undeveloped stream-reach potential in the U.S. For more information, visit http://energy.gov/quadrennial-technology-review-2015.