Stimulating New Hydro in the U.S.

Development of untapped hydropower potential in the U.S. could add as much as 23,000 MW of new capacity – from a combination of conventional, ocean, and hydrokinetic technology. What’s needed to capture this potential is a combination of additional economic incentives, investment in research and development, and regulatory support.

By Michael Bahleda, Mary Ann Adonizio, and Douglas A. Dixon

In 2006, EPRI launched an effort to conduct a waterpower resource assessment. The objective was to determine the potential that waterpower technology could contribute toward meeting U.S. energy needs.

For the assessment, ERPI defined waterpower as including generation from conventional hydro facilities, as well as emerging technologies that access the potential of river, tidal, ocean, and constructed waterway currents and of ocean waves and thermal gradients.

To determine the potential that waterpower technology could contribute toward meeting U.S. energy needs, EPRI identified and reviewed pertinent literature, reviewed existing data sources for potential or proposed waterpower energy programs,1,2,3,4,5,6 and consulted with industry personnel who had relevant knowledge. In addition, EPRI consulted developers and researchers regarding potential; demonstration site status; needed research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D); obstacles for commercialization; and estimates for real deployment of capacity at commercial quantities.

Results indicated that the potential for waterpower expansion is about 23,000 MW by 2025. (See Table 1.) This does not include construction of new large hydro facilities, for two reasons. First, there was no direct data available to project possible generation from new large projects. Second, it is unlikely any new large projects will be brought on line by 2025, given the current permitting environment. The projected gains are broken down into the categories of conventional hydro (capacity gains, small and low power hydro, power at non-power dams); hydrokinetic (in-stream and tidal); and ocean wave technology.

A closer look at the resource assessment

The year 2025 was chosen as the goal of this assessment because it provides a long enough time frame for proposed research, incentive, and regulatory changes to affect decisions and produce a measurable amount of generation.

Capacity gains at existing conventional projects

EPRI’s assessment indicates that capacity gains at existing hydro projects could add 375 MW by 2010 and 2,300 MW by 2025. Furthermore, existing conventional hydropower can be enhanced by improvements in generation efficiency, which can range from 2 to 5 percent or more. This would increase current annual conventional hydro generation about 5,300 to 14,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh), depending on annual hydrology. (Current conventional hydropower generation ranges from an average annual low of about 261,000 GWh and an average annual high of about 293,000 GWh.)

Small hydro

Development of about 2,700 MW of new small and low power conventional hydropower by 2025 is possible. This breaks down to about 700 MW at facilities smaller than 1 MW in capacity (this includes potential defined as conventional, unconventional, and micro-hydro by DOE7) and 2,000 MW at facilities larger than 1 MW and smaller than 30 MW in capacity.

Low power potential could be obtained using conventional technology, but it is economically difficult to develop given the current regulatory environment.

Power at non-power dams

New conventional hydropower potential at existing non-powered dams is about 5,000 MW. This figure represents only 30 percent of the total potential that could be developed within the next 20 years. With favorable economic conditions, such as full production tax credits (PTC) and renewable portfolio standard (RPS) credits comparable to those offered for wind and solar projects, this figure could range as high as 10,000 MW.

Hydrokinetic technology

EPRI sees an opportunity to develop 3,000 MW of new capacity using hydrokinetic technologies (tidal, in-stream, and constructed waterways). This assumes that hydrokinetic RDD&D is conducted and regulatory licensing is expedited. Because these technologies are still in their fledgling state of development, a great deal of work remains if they are to achieve their full potential. Basic technology developments, along with demonstration of environmental interactions, are the key areas where more research is needed. For much of this to occur, there needs to be a rethinking of regulatory structures to allow field demonstrations that show the environmental effects, then use of that empirical information as a guide for commercial licenses.

Ocean and tidal technologies

Ocean wave technologies use the rise and fall of a wave front to generate energy. Tidal technologies depend on the velocity of the water moving due to tidal flow. These forms of generation offer future potential of 1,000 MW by 2015 and 10,000 MW by 2025, assuming RDD&D and regulatory licensing are expedited. Like in-stream kinetic technologies, wave and tidal technologies are in their developmental infancy and need the same general research and regulatory support if they are going to demonstrate their full potential in an environmentally responsible manner.

Potential for waterpower expansion is about 23,000 MW by 2025, according to EPRI. The gains would come from new hydrokinetic and ocean projects as well as from adding hydro at non-power dams and making improvements at existing conventional plants to increase capacity. Click here to enlarge image


Total waterpower production

Including generation from the emerging waterpower technologies with the numbers mentioned above, EPRI estimates an increase in total annual waterpower generation of about 79,000 to 89,000 GWh by 2025. This annual additional generation is equivalent to the current power needs of almost 8 million households, based on 2001 DOE residential power consumption estimates,8 or nearly the current annual generation from all other renewable technologies (about 89,000 GWh in 2004).

Work needed to tap potential

In addition to conducting resource assessments, EPRI scoped a proposal of what’s needed to realize the potential – to make development of 23,000 MW of new capacity possible. The proposal identifies work needed in three areas: economic incentives, investment in RDD&D, and regulatory support.

Economic incentives

Extending the PTC and clean renewable energy bond (CREB) programs to 2015 would foster investment in modernizing the infrastructure at existing hydropower facilities and in building new facilities at existing dams. The importance of the PTCs is based on their history of supporting capacity development in the wind industry. Conventional hydropower could be expected to follow the same economic incentive trend. The next-generation waterpower – the hydrokinetic and ocean wave energy technologies that are not yet commercial – will require similar support to achieve their potential.

Investment in RDD&D

Establishing a public-private sector program called the Advanced Water Energy Initiative (AWEI) would provide RDD&D guidance and funding support of $212 million (through 2010), for a total of $377 million through 2015. AWEI would be designed to achieve near-term conventional hydropower gains while fostering the development and commercialization of waterpower technologies that produce energy from hydrokinetics and ocean wave resources.

Table 1: Estimated Future Waterpower Capacity Gains Click here to enlarge image

Commercialization of new technologies and capital-intensive energy projects requires time and RDD&D. For example, over a nearly 30-year period (1978 to 2006), U.S. wind energy RDD&D has resulted in 9,100 MW of installed capacity. Similar long-term success is projected from an investment in waterpower RDD&D. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Through investment of $377 million in waterpower research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) between now and 2015, EPRI estimates the hydro industry could see capacity additions of 23,000 MW by 2025. Click here to enlarge image

AWEI would provide the requisite structure and guidance for the needed RDD&D. This initiative addresses the needs by using the successful technology development models employed by other renewable energy sectors, such as wind and biomass. AWEI would have three major components:

    – Waterpower Realization Committee (estimated funding needs of $4 million through 2009), to provide initial guidance and oversight to benchmark results of the RDD&D in terms of real waterpower capacity and generation gains;
    – Waterpower Performance Initiatives (estimated funding needs of $122 million through 2009), which are RDD&D efforts that would improve the efficiency and environmental performance of conventional hydro technologies; and
    – Waterpower Technology Development (estimated funding needs of $86 million through 2009), which is RDD&D that would advance hydrokinetic and ocean energy technology development in four program areas.

Based on a series of research recommendations that could provide the basis for the generation gains given above, EPRI estimates that near-term (2007 to 2010) funding requirements for RDD&D totals $212 million. Through 2015, the estimate is a total of $377 million, or about $38 million per year. (Since this research was concluded, discussions between trade associations and Congressional appropriations staff have identified as much as $70 million in research program needs for 2008.)

Implementation of this program requires reestablishing DOE funding for waterpower research, which was eliminated beginning in Fiscal Year 2007. Federal funding support also would contribute to reversing a long-term decline in DOE’s budget authority for energy research and development (R&D). The U.S. Government Accountability Office noted this figure has declined in real terms by more than 85 percent since 1978.9 Other researchers note a similar trend (58 percent decline between 1980 and 1995); however, more importantly, they note the importance of R&D to technology development by documenting the correlation between R&D spending and patent applications.10,11,12 Establishing an RDD&D program, therefore, is essential to realization of the waterpower industry’s potential.

Realizing waterpower’s potential requires moving down an RDD&D path that embraces all waterpower technologies in a comprehensive manner. EPRI’s proposed ten-year $377 million AWEI funding level is just 31 percent of the 28-year funding of the wind industry ($1.2 billion) and could yield more than twice as much installed capacity (23,000 MW vs. 9,100 MW) in a shorter (20- vs. 28-year) timeframe.

As the U.S. and world become more and more carbon-based-energy constrained because of climate change concerns, there is a growing recognition that low-carbon renewable energy needs to contribute as much as possible to meet the growing energy demand.

With the support of RDD&D and economic incentives, added waterpower capacity is in a position to provide a significant contribution to all these energy goals. In fact, in the case of carbon emissions, 79,000 GWh per year of production represented by 23,000 MW of new waterpower capacity would offset more than 14 million tons of carbon. Similarly that same 79,000 GWh per year increase in waterpower generation would offset 46 million barrels of oil. That is equal to about 21 percent of the oil used to produce electricity in 2005.12

Regulatory support

The report recognized the need for regulatory structures that support technological development in an environmentally responsible fashion, but it was not part of the scope of the project to advocate for specific regulatory changes. The intent of the project was to provide a factual basis for the potential generation gains and identify areas of research needed and the funding requirements. This information then can be used by industry, government, and other interested stakeholders to develop the policies and procedures that will help waterpower technologies make their full contribution to the U.S.’s energy supply in an environmentally responsible manner.

Mr. Bahleda may be reached at Bahleda Management and Consulting, 515 Colecroft Court, Alexandria, VA 22314; (1) 708-836-0407; E-mail: mbahleda@ Ms. Adonizio may be reached at 250 North 24th Street, Camp Hill, PA 17011; (1) 717-730-2092; E-mail: Dr. Dixon may be reached at EPRI, 7905 Berkeley Drive, Gloucester Point, VA 23062; (1) 804-642-1025; E-mail:


  1. Hall, D.G., et al., Water Energy Resources of the United States with Emphasis on Low/Head Low Power Resources, DOE/ID-11111, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 2004. Available at: http://
  2. Hall, D.G., et al., Feasibility Assessment of the Water Energy Resources of the United States for New Low Power and Small Hydro Classes of Hydroelectric Plants, DOE-ID-11263, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 2006. Available at: http://
  3. Hall, D.G., and K.S. Reeves, A Study of United States Hydroelectric Plant Ownership, Report INL/Ext –06-11519, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 2006. Available at:
  4. Conner, A.M., J.E. Francfort, and B.N. Rinehart, U.S. Hydropower Assessment Final Report, DOE/ID-10430.2, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 1998. Available at: http://hydropower. shtml.
  5. 2004 Offshore Wave Power Project: Compelling Case for Investing in Wave Energy RDD&D, Final Summary Report, EPRI E2I EPRI Global WP 009 – US Rev 1, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, Calif., 2005. Available at www.epri. com/oceanenergy.
  6. EPRI Tidal In Stream Energy Conversion (TISEC) Project, Final Summary Report, EPRI TP-008-NA, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, Calif., 2005. Available at
  7. Hydropower Multi-Year Technical Plan, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Wind and Hydropower, Technologies Program, Washington, D.C., 2003.
  8. 2001 Resident Energy Consumption Survey, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency, Washington, D.C., 2001. Available at ftp://
  9. Department of Energy: Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs, GAO-07-106, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report to Congressional Requestors, 2006.
  10. Margolis, Robert M., and Daniel M. Kammen, “Underinvestment: The Energy Technology and R&D Policy Challenge,” Science, Volume 285, No. 5428, July 30 1999, pages 690-692.
  11. Margolis, Robert M., and Daniel M. Kammen, “Evidence of Under-investment in Energy R&D in the United States and the Impact of Federal Policy,” Energy Policy, Volume 27, 1999, pages 575-584.
  12. Margolis, Robert M., and Daniel M. Kammen, “Energy R&D and Innovation: Challenges and Opportunities for Technology and Climate Policy,” In A Reader in Climate Change Policy, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.


    Assessment of Waterpower Potential and Development Needs, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, Calif., 2007. Available at www.epri. com, search for 1014762.

    Mike Bahleda is vice president of Bahleda Management and Consulting. Mary Ann Adonizio, P.E., is an independent consultant. Doug Dixon, PhD, is project manager with EPRI. Mike and Mary Ann were the principle investigators during the resource assessment and prepared the report on the work.

New Hydro in Canada: Potential, Progress, and Policy Improvements

A world leader in hydropower, Canada has more than 70,000 MW of installed capacity, generating 60 percent of the country’s electricity. Most hydropower is produced at large facilities in Québec, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The second largest electricity exporter in the world, Canada provides large amounts of electricity to the U.S. (40.9 terawatt-hours, TWh, in 2006), mostly from hydropower stations. As these exports primarily serve markets in the U.S. that rely on coal-fired electricity plants, hydropower improves air quality and reduces continental greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada has more than 163,000 MW of untapped hydropower resources, available across the country, in all 13 provinces and territories. And, after a ten-year hiatus in large hydropower development, Canadians are witnessing a hydropower renaissance.

Two new major projects have recently been launched in Manitoba and Québec.

The 200-MW Wuskwatim project on the Burntwood River in Manitoba began construction in the summer of 2006. Developed by the Wuskwatim Power Limited Partnership, an equity partnership between the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Manitoba Hydro, the project involves less than half a square kilometer of flooding.

In January 2007, Hydro-Québec began construction of the Eastmain-1-A and La Sarcelle powerhouses and Rupert Diversion project, one of the largest hydroelectric projects to be undertaken in Canada in this decade. When completed, the project will provide additional capacity of 893 MW and additional output of 8.5 TWh a year. Commissioning of the project is planned for 2011.

Additional large projects are under consideration and study. Examples, by province, include:

    – 900-MW Site C on the Peace River and the 435-MW Waneta Expansion Project in British Columbia;
    – 1,550-MW Romaine complex and the 1,550-MW Petit-Mécatina project in Québec;
    – 620-MW Keeyask station and the 1,380-MW Conawapa station on the Nelson River in Manitoba; and
    – 2,000-MW Gull Island and the 824-MW Muskrat Falls project on the Churchill River in Labrador.

Many smaller projects are also being planned and constructed, as well as progress occurring on refurbishment of several existing schemes.

Exciting and challenging times lie ahead for the Canadian hydropower industry. Rising concerns with air pollution and climate change provide significant opportunities for new development, as long as hydropower receives adequate incentives under clean air and climate change programs. The hydropower industry is currently working with the Canadian government to improve the regulatory process: environmental assessment of hydropower projects must be further streamlined; harmonization between provincial/territorial and federal processes improved; and uncertainty regarding the outcome, timing, and requirements of the environmental process must be removed. The industry is also pressing for recognition of hydropower’s environmental advantages.

For more information about hydropower in Canada, visit

– By Pierre Fortin, Canadian Hydropower Association

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