DOE Devotes Funds for Improved Efficiency of Hydropower Facilities

Water flowing at U.S. hydropower facility

(Credit: Department of Energy)

by | Feb 7, 2024

The Department of Energy has granted $71.5 million in incentive payments to support 46 hydropower facilities across 19 states.

Payments will go toward continued operations and improved facility efficiency for the selected U.S. hydropower sites. Investments will include upgrades of facility turbines and generators and improvements to water conveyance structures, overall improving efficiency by an average of 14%, with a statutory minimum improvement of 3%.

The selected hydropower facilities represented an average facility age of 75 years, so funding aims to support greater longevity for the aging sites, some of which could not continue operations without prompt repairs. Selected improvements are also reportedly expected to generate $468 million in combined federal and private investment. The DOE said the funding is its largest single investment into hydropower.

“Hydropower is the nation’s prototype of renewable power playing an important role in deploying affordable and reliable electricity across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “Thanks to the president’s Investing in America agenda we are maintaining and expanding our hydropower fleets, helping reduce costs of operation and ensuring American workers continue to drive the nation’s clean energy transition.”

Funding to Support Pumped Storage Hydropower

Hydropower accounts for 27% of renewable electricity and 93% of utility-scale energy storage capacity for the U.S., according to the DOE. Hydropower facilities are also known to provide a host of benefits beyond clean energy generation, including water supply monitoring, flood control, and energy storage.

The DOE has become increasingly invested in the energy-storing potential of pumped storage hydropower, which has been found to have a lower global warming potential than most other grid-scale energy storage technologies. A number of the facilities supported by the new funding are pumped storage hydropower sites.

Pumped storage hydropower has also been found to benefit remote locations that are less connected to large interstate energy grids. The DOE has conducted research in Alaska to explore how the technology may both provide clean energy and store energy for the state, acting as an alternative to natural gas, which Alaska currently relies on for power generation.

Hydropower’s energy-storing ability may allow the technology to support other renewables, especially wind and solar, as they are integrated into the U.S. grid. In its Hydropower Vision Framework, the DOE said that new pumped storage hydropower projects may help meet grid flexibility needs, indicating further expansion of its use as the country works to decarbonize the grid.

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