Hydropower Vision: New Report Highlights Future Pathways for US Hydropower

Hydropower has been around for more than a century, and is currently the nation’s largest source of clean, domestic, renewable electricity. What could its role look like in the year 2050?

Providing about 7 percent of the nation’s electricity, hydropower supports more than 143,000 jobs in engineering, manufacturing, construction and utility operations and maintenance — all while improving the environment and strengthening our economy. Additionally, pumped-storage hydropower represents 97 percent of all energy storage in the U.S., offering the flexibility and reliability the electricity grid needs to deliver affordable clean energy to American homes and businesses.

So what does the future of hydropower look like? To answer that question, over the past two years the U.S. Department of Energy has collaborated with more than 300 experts from more than 150 hydropower industry companies, environmental organizations, state and federal governmental agencies, academic institutions, electric power system operators, research institutions and other stakeholders to explore how it could evolve in the coming decades.

These experts conducted a first-of-its-kind comprehen­sive analysis to evaluate future pathways for hydropower in the U.S. from the present through 2030 and 2050. The Hydropower Vision report defines the societal, environmental and economic benefits of hydropower in a scenario where U.S. hydropower could grow from 101 GW of combined generating and storage capacity in 2015 to nearly 150 GW by 2050, with more than 50 percent of this growth by 2030.

Key Findings of the Hydropower Visioin Report

  • Although hydropower is the nation’s oldest form of renewable electricity, many actions and efforts remain critical to further advancement of domestic hydropower as a key energy source of the future. These include continued technology development that lowers costs and the availability of market mechanisms that take into account the value of the grid reliability services, air quality and reduced emissions that hydropower provides.

  • Hydropower has the potential to support more than 195,000 jobs across the nation in 2050.

  • By 2050, hydropower can reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 5.6 gigatonnes — equivalent to nearly 1.2 billion passenger vehicles driven in a year — saving $209 billion from avoided global damages from climate change.

  • By 2050, hydropower can save 30 trillion gallons of water, equivalent to roughly 45 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

  • By 2050, hydropower can save $58 billion from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages from air pollution.

  • New pumped-storage hydropower technology can further integrate variable generation resources, such as wind and solar, into the national power grid because of its ability to provide grid flexibility, reliability and reserve capacity.

  • Developing a comprehensive set of science-based environmental performance metrics and assessment tools will further the design and sustainable operation of hydropower projects.

Road Map to the Future of U.S. Hydropower

Although the Hydropower Vision report does not make any policy recommendations, it does provide a road map that sets forth actions that the hydropower industry, research community and others can take to achieve higher levels of hydropower deployment within a sustainable national energy mix.

Carrying out the road map actions will usher in a new era of growth in sustainable domestic hydropower, while protecting the nation’s energy, environmental and economic interests. The five “action areas” that would help achieve the Hydropower Vision include:

  • Technology Advancement: Developing innovative technologies will help reduce costs and improve both power production efficiencies and environmental performance.

  • Sustainable Development and Operation: This includes using integrated approaches that balance environmental, social and economic factors.

  • Enhanced Revenue and Market Structures: Appropriate compensation and incentives for new and existing hydropower are needed given the numerous energy production and grid support services it provides.

  • Regulatory Process Optimization: This includes increasing access to shared data, making information on relevant scientific advances available, enhancing process efficiency and reducing risks and costs.

  • Enhanced Collaboration, Education and Outreach: Sharing best practices for maintaining, operating and constructing facilities and developing curricula for programs to train new hydropower professionals are needed to usher in the next era of hydropower.

The Energy Department is proud to have worked with several hundred experts and organizations, including our national laboratories, to develop this vision for America’s hydropower future. As a domestic source of renewable energy, hydropower has the potential to continue to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity to consumers for decades to come.

Explore the Hydropower Vision report in full here.

This article was originally published by the U.S. Department of Energy in the public domain.

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Jose Zayas is the Office Director for the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of energy. In this role, he manages efforts to improve performance, lower costs, and accelerate deployment of wind and water power technologies, which can play a significant role in America's clean energy future. In working with DOE's national laboratories, academia, and industry, the program funds research, development, and deployment of wind and water power systems through competitively selected, cost-shared projects with businesses, federal, state, and other stakeholder groups.

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