The US Department of Energy (DOE) has unveiled an investment of more than $13 million in seven research and development projects aimed at advancing hydropower as a pivotal source of clean energy, in alignment with President Biden's "Investing in America" agenda. This funding, facilitated by the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is set to propel technologies for power generation at non-powered dams while accelerating the growth of pumped storage hydropower (PSH).
US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm underscored the significance of hydropower, stating, "For more than a century, Americans have harnessed the power of water to electrify our communities, and it’s a critical renewable energy source that will help us reach our climate goals. President Biden’s Investing in America agenda will help to expand the use of hydropower, increasing access to affordable, clean power and creating good-paying jobs."
The funding is designed to facilitate research and development initiatives by organizations dedicated to enhancing hydropower's affordability, environmental responsibility, and deployability for non-powered dams and PSH technologies. Of the over 90,000 dams in the US, less than 3% currently generate power, serving various purposes such as flood control, irrigation, water storage, and recreation. However, these dams possess the potential to contribute thousands of megawatts of clean energy to the national grid. In the realm of utility-scale energy storage, PSH already accounts for 93%, making it a pivotal tool for balancing an increasingly resource-diverse grid, including wind and solar energy sources.
The seven selected projects have the following primary objectives:
Retrofitting non-powered dams with sustainable power-generating infrastructure
- Low-Impact Hydropower Assessment (Keokuk, Iowa): The Electric Power Research Institute (based in Palo Alto, California) will assess two models of the Amjet Turbine System, designed to add power-generating infrastructure to non-powered dams. The Keokuk Energy Center, a run-of-river project, will serve as the testing ground. (Award amount: $2,306,949)
- Spillway Turbine (Pasco, Washington): Emrgy (based in Atlanta, Georgia) will develop a turbine for generating hydropower at non-powered dams with water drops less than 30 feet, or in low-flow conduits like existing irrigation canals. The technology is designed to integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure. The South Columbia Basin will host the technology's demonstration. (Award amount: $1,600,308)
Advancing and developing technologies to expedite pumped storage hydropower deployment
- Accelerating the Deployment of PSH Through the Fast Conversion of Existing Conventional Hydropower (Salem, Alabama): Georgia Power Co. (based in Atlanta, Georgia) will expedite the development and deployment of PSH facilities across the United States by retrofitting conventional hydropower facilities. The Bartlett’s Ferry Hydropower Facility in Salem, Alabama, will serve as the testing ground. (Award amount: $2,880,191)
- Low Cost, 3D Concrete Printed, Modular, Marine Pumped Hydroelectric Storage System (San Pedro, California): RCAM Technologies (based in Boulder, Colorado) will advance the Marine Pumped Hydroelectric (MPH) Storage System by funding its design, fabrication, and deepwater ocean testing off the Port of Los Angeles. MPH stores pressurized seawater in concrete spheres on the sea floor to generate electricity, offering a solution to some of the challenges faced by onshore PSH installations. (Award amount: $4,000,000)
- Energy Storage Systems for Overpressure Environments (East Texas): Quidnet Energy Inc. (based in Houston, Texas) will demonstrate a novel PSH technology that stores pressurized water underground. This approach utilizes existing wellbores, repurposing legacy oil and gas assets for low-cost, long-duration electricity storage. (Award amount: $2,084,165)
Promoting hydropower research and development by emerging organizations with limited engagement with DOE's Water Power Technologies Office
- Novel Approach to Deploying Low-Head Turbines at Drops and Diversions (Sagle, Idaho): Drops for Watts will develop a low-impact, modular system to generate hydropower from existing irrigation infrastructure. This system aims to have minimal impact on existing infrastructure and requires no additional excavation. (Award amount: $243,540)
- Deployment of Digital Twins and Advanced Instrumentation to Identify Looseness Between Rotor Spider Arms and Rim Attachment in Hydro Turbines (Atlanta, Georgia): Turbine Logic will employ digital twin technology, a virtual representation of existing instrumentation, to predict maintenance needs in hydropower turbines accurately. This will enhance monitoring and the reliability of hydropower facilities. (Award amount: $199,435)
These projects were selected as part of the Water Power Technologies Office’s "Innovative Technologies to Enable Low-Impact Hydropower and Pumped Storage Hydropower Growth" funding opportunity. The selection for award negotiations is not a guarantee of funding; a negotiation process will be undertaken between DOE and the applicants, during which DOE retains the right to cancel negotiations and rescind selections for any reason.