The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released a new report looking at the future of hydropower that suggests conventional and storage hydro could reach 150GW by 2050 from the current 101GW. It has also announced the availability of $9.8 million in funding for up to 12 projects to develop innovative technologies for pumped-storage hydropower and non-powered dams.

The report, Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s First Renewable Electricity Source, finds that with continued technology advancements, innovative market mechanisms, and a focus on environmental sustainability, hydropower in the US could grow to nearly 150GW of combined electricity generation and storage capacity by 2050.

“Hydropower has provided clean, affordable, and reliable electricity in the United States for more than a century, and pumped-storage complements today’s rapidly growing variable technologies such as wind and solar. The Hydropower Vision report clearly shows an expanded role for hydropower and pumped storage in our clean energy future,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.”

The report highlights key advances in pumped storage which can create an additional 36GW of capacity, more than doubling the current capacity of 21.6GW in the United States.  It also highlights the current and future public health and environmental benefits of hydropower. Between now and 2050, hydropower  could save $209 billion from avoided damages from greenhouse gas emissions, $58 billion from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages due to air pollution, and 30 trillion gallons of water that would otherwise be used for steam generation or power plant cooling. US hydropower and pumped-storage has the potential to increase and support the nation’s renewable energy portfolio while providing economic development by supporting more than 195,000 jobs and result in $150 billion in cumulative economic development by 2050, the report says

The report includes a roadmap that defines a range of actions needed to realize the economic and social benefits of increased hydropower in the future based on three foundational “pillars” of optimization, growth, and environmental sustainability. The roadmap finds that driving long-term cost reductions will require continued technology development and collaboration among industry experts, federal agencies, and academia.


The $9.8 million announced by the DOE at the same time as the report could be used for technologies that will reduce capital costs and deployment timelines for pumped storage hydropower and non-powered dams. The pumped storage projects will study the feasibility of innovative concepts for closed-loop pumped-storage hydropower systems.

Today, only 3% of the nation’s dams currently generate electricity. The non-powered dam technology projects will help tap this resource by supporting the development of low-head, modular designs that can reduce infrastructure and construction costs and operate flexibly over a range of conditions at existing dams. The pumped storage and non-powered dams projects support the Energy Department’s HydroNEXT initiative by developing and accelerating deployment of innovative hydropower technologies that lower costs, improve performance, and promote environmental stewardship.