By Herman K. Trabish
U.S. hydroelectric power, the nation’s oldest and biggest renewable, could see striking growth through 2050 – if developers work around its potential harms to river ecosystems and take advantage of expected growth in wind and solar.
Hydropower provided 6.2% of the nation’s electricity, 48% of all renewable electricity, and 97% of all energy storage in 2015, according to a new report, “Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s First Renewable Electricity Source,” from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
That almost 101 GW of combined hydropower generating and storage installed capacity in 2015 could explode to nearly 150 GW in 2050, the report’s rigorous modeling found. But that will require technology innovations to drive the cost of project development and financing down and to solve environmental challenges.
“The growth potential for hydropower is real,” Jose Zayas, DOE’s Wind and Water Technologies Office Director, told Utility Dive.
The U.S. Department of Energy has issued a far ranging evaluation of the future of hydropower in the United States. The backdrop of the report is continued national desires for low-cost, low-carbon, renewable energy.
The report finds that hydropower’s contribution to electrical supply could grow from 101 gigawattts (GW) of capacity to 150 GW by 2050. Such a jump is the equivalent of supplying enough new power to meet the needs of over 35 million homes. Along with this would be billions in savings from avoided greenhouse emissions. The report postulates that these gains could occur through technological evolution, low-cost financing and embracing environmental sustainability. Click here for report.
The Northwest, which relies on hydropower to generate well over half of its electricity, is already spending millions of dollars annually to upgrade and optimize generation and operational performance at hydropower projects. The Northwest is also familiar and continues to investigate efforts to install hydropower in irrigation canals and non-powered dams.
What would be new to the Northwest is the full embrace given by the report to deploying and integrating pumped storage technology into the mix. Currently, the Northwest has only one pumped storage project, the John Keys III Pump Generation Plant at Grand Coulee Dam.
The report concludes that 35.5 GW of new pumped storage could be developed nationally by combining advanced technology and low cost financing. This represents 73 percent of potential hydropower gains envisioned by the report. There are eight prospective pumped-storage projects in the Northwest.
Pumped storage projects take water passing through a project area and “pump” it to an additional reservoir during off-peak hours. Water is then released back through the turbines when the demand and value of power is highest. A key benefit of pumped storage is its ability to come on and off line quickly, thus making it an ideal way to support variable generation resources such as wind and solar.
By Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis
Long before wind and solar, water was the nation’s top renewable energy source. Going back some 100 years, the United States built enormous dams — like the Depression-era Hoover Dam in Nevada — to produce tremendous amounts of energy.
We have so many such dams that hydropower last year remained our fourth largest source of electricity overall and our single largest renewable source, providing 6 percent of Americans’ electricity. Yet it’s rarely talked about and lacks the excitement attached to other renewables. That’s in part because dams are controversial and can have major environmental consequences, affecting wildlife and altering local ecosystems. New ones also are expensive to build.
“A lot of people, when they think about hydro, they don’t think that there’s much growth opportunity,” said Jose Zayas, who directs the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the Department of Energy. “We wanted to really quantify the benefits of hydro.” Read More
By Christian Hill
Eugene Register Guard
The Eugene Water & Electric Board has sold its hydroelectric project in Idaho and will use the money from the sale to pay down debt, but it must continue buying power from the dam’s new owner at below-market rates for the next three years. Read more
By Phuong Le, Associated Press
An environmental group sued the federal agency that operates the nation’s largest hydropower producer Wednesday, saying operations at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington are polluting the Columbia River in violation of federal clean water laws.
The nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper says the Bureau of Reclamation should get a pollution permit and be required to disclose as well as reduce the amount of oil, greases and other pollutants the dam in Eastern Washington sends into local waters. Read More
What better place for new hires and experienced professionals moving into the hydropower industry to learn “the business” than at the world’s largest hydro conference?
The Waterpower Hydro Basics Course is taking place July 25 – 26 at the HydroVision Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The full conference is July 26-29 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Click here for detailed course information and registration.
This intensive, highly practical course is designed specifically for people new to hydro to quickly gain the industry background they need, and to help persons with limited hydro experience expand their knowledge.
Taught by industry experts from hydropower producers across the country, course work immerses participants in all aspects of the industry. For instance, the physics of waterpower, the basics of electricity and distribution, plant operations, environmental stewardship, navigating the regulatory environment, and communicating hydro’s value.
Randy Stearnes, FWEE’s Board President and Tacoma Public Utilities Community Relations Officer, has been a Hydro Basics Course instructor for several years. “The Hydro Basics lesson plans can help a person new to the hydro industry better understand the work done for the generation of electricity and the successful management of fish, wildlife and recreational resources,” he said.
By Dan Elliott, Associated Press
Climate change could upset the complex interplay of rain, snow and temperature in the West, hurting food production, the environment and electrical generation at dams, the federal government warned Tuesday. Read more
By Todd Griset
JDSUPRA Business Advisor
By Steve Wright and Matthew Rooney
The Columbia River Treaty has been one of the most successful international agreements ever, partly due to the leading role played by regional entities on both sides of the border in its management. It has produced billions of dollars of benefit for American and Canadian residents of the Pacific Northwest, and showed the world how a cross-border river basin could be managed to benefit two countries.
But circumstances have changed, and it is time to modernize the treaty. Renegotiation should begin now, and the United States should not hesitate to provide notice of intent to terminate the applicable treaty provisions to ensure a serious negotiation. Read more