Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) are looking for field demonstration partners from across the US to help investigate how regional hydropower operators can integrate industrial-scale energy storage to make their plants capable of providing local emergency power during blackouts. 

INL has developed a system that leverages ultracapacitors – large industrial storage devices that can quickly release electricity on demand – and innovative controls to address issues surrounding black starting and islanding of small hydro plants. Unlike batteries, which take hours to charge, ultracapacitors can deliver quick bursts of energy, and then just as quickly capture excess power. This relieves pressure on hydropower plants, giving them more time to catch up to changes in demand. 

INL conducted its first field demonstration for the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office in April 2021 with Idaho Falls Power, a municipally owned utility. INL documented the findings in a technical report.  In the demonstration, INL and Idaho Falls Power used the city’s five small hydroelectric plants on the Snake River, which serve between 25% and 30% of the city’s total electricity. The tests showed the ultracapacitors would work as expected when connected to the hydroelectric plants. 

“It opens up the possibilities for a lot of communities that have small hydropower plants like ours,” said Ben Jenkins, who managed the project for Idaho Falls Power. “It helps Idaho Falls, but it could have a much broader impact across the national grid.” 

In its call for new partners, INL asks applicants about their generation assets and events that have motivated them to investigate emergency power generation capabilities. 

Interested parties should complete the partnership call form, which can be found on INL’s Water Power website, no later than May 2. Potential partners can also learn more by contacting Thomas Mosier, INL energy systems group lead, at

Idaho Falls Power’s Lower Bulb Hydropower Plant was involved in the first field demonstration in 2021