R&D Forum

Argonne awarded $1.9 million for hydropower study

A $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will allow Argonne National Laboratory to further its study of advanced pumped-storage hydropower systems.

Argonne’s study will cover the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) region, as it is expected to see quick growth in variable renewable energies during the next two decades.

The research is significant because advanced pumped-storage plants are the only large-scale energy storage source that is fully commercially available, and they are capable of integrating into existing electrical grids.

However, much of the 21,000 MW of power currently generated by these plants around the U.S. comes from facilities that were constructed 30 or more years ago – prompting the need to reexamine how pumped-storage plants can be best utilized.

“Defining the role for pumped storage is going to be more important than ever because it will be called upon to serve a grid that looks radically different than it did when those facilities were built,” Argonne engineer Vladimir Koritarov says.

Chief among these differences is an ever-increasing number of other renewable energy sources, thus changing the role pumped-storage plants might play in a modern electrical grid.

“They can help smooth out the variability of the contribution of wind and solar energy to the grid,” Argonne engineer Guenter Conzelmann says. “This grant will allow us to model exactly how the puzzle fits together. To stimulate investment, we need to improve the models to show the full value of the technology.”

Alstom, MWH, Siemens and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will also participate in the study.

Congress commits $59 million to hydro research and development

A bill that would significantly increase hydropower spending in the 2012 Fiscal Year gained congressional and presidential approval in December 2011.

The bill, which combines nine spending bills and has gained bipartisan support, provides US$59 million for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Water Power Research and Development Program. Of that, $25 million would be earmarked for marine and hydrokinetic research, development and demonstration; $25 million would go to conventional hydropower; and the remainder would be used to develop infrastructure projects.

“NHA commends Senate and House appropriations leadership on putting together a package that invests in hydropower technologies, both conventional and new marine and hydrokinetic,” National Hydropower Association executive director Linda Church Ciocci said in a release.

The allocation is a $20 million increase from the 2011 Fiscal Year and $11.5 million above the budget request. In fact, the Water Power Program is the only renewable electricity to receive a funding increase.

Energy research to grow more than 23% in 2012

Energy-related research sponsored by U.S. manufacturers and technology providers will reach nearly $6.7 billion in 2012, up 23.1% from 2011. This is according to the recently released Battelle-R&D Magazine annual Global R&D Funding Forecast.

Global spending by energy-related companies will grow by 7.8% to reach $17.9 billion in 2012, the forecast indicates.

A review panel commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy identified key research and development areas where the DOE program and investment can play a significant role. The areas address energy supply and demand and relate to both stationary power (deploying clean electricity and modernizing the grid) and transport power (deploying alternative hydrocarbon fuels and electrifying the vehicle fleet).

Globally, R&D spending is expected by grow by about 5.2% in 2012 to more than $1.4 trillion. The study predicts R&D in North America will grow by 2.8%. The forecast spending of $436 billion in the U.S. is expected to be composed of $279.6 billion for private industry, $125.6 billion for the federal government, $12 billion for academia, $14.5 billion for nonprofits and $3.8 billion for other government entities.

Battelle is an independent research and development organization that conducts $6.5 billion annually in R&D. It manages or co-manages seven national laboratories for DOE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The full forecast is available at www.battelle.org/aboutus/rd/2012.pdf.

Study to protect Chesapeake Bay from sediment

State and federal agencies have launched a three-year study of strategies to protect the Chesapeake Bay from sediment and other pollutants from the lower Susquehanna River watershed, including those that accumulate behind Conowingo Dam.

This $1.4 million evaluation, called the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment, came about as a result of flooding by Tropical Storm Lee washing about 4 million tons of sediment into the bay, along with such excess nutrients as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients feed algae blooms, which rob the water of oxygen.

The study will evaluate the millions of tons of sediment stored behind 548-MW Conowingo Dam and three other hydro projects on the Susquehanna River: 108-MW Holtwood, 421-MW Safe Harbor and 20-MW York Haven. U.S. Geological Survey says the 100-foot-high Conowingo Dam traps two-thirds of the 3 million tons of sediment that reach it each year, but the reservoir’s capture and storage capacity will be used up in 15 to 20 years. Conowingo is the closest of the dams to the entrance to the bay and the only one with sediment storage capacity remaining.

The watershed implementation plans being developed for Maryland and Pennsylvania to meet the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” will be integrated into the assessment.

Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards established for Chesapeake Bay assume that upstream storage in the Susquehanna watershed will continue to trap substantial amounts of sediment and pollutants through at least 2025. If that is not possible, the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland will be required to identify and implement other pollution-control measures to meet EPA standards.

Experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland departments of environment and natural resources, Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Nature Conservancy are cooperating for this study.

Department of Energy advancing work on hydro expansion study

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy requested information from hydropower project owners and operators, equipment manufacturers, consultants, and project and technology developers concerning the improvement of America’s existing hydro facilities.

This request for information was prompted by the National Hydropower Asset Assessment Project (NHAAP) being conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which was initiated in 2010.

The study shows that the U.S. has an installed hydroelectric capacity of about 78 GW and also that hydropower output could be increased significantly through the improvement and expansion of existing equipment and facilities.

DOE estimates this additional output to be 8 to 16 GW of capacity and about 55 TWh of annual generation.

Reclamation awards contract to study fish in 17 states

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $3 million contract to Biomark Inc. to supply passive integrated transponder tags and related equipment for fish studies in 17 western states.

Biomark, of Boise, Idaho, is to supply PIT tag equipment for river habitat restoration and endangered fish recovery programs: Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery, San Juan River Basin Recovery, Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative, Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management, Columbia/Snake Salmon Recovery, Trinity River Restoration, San Joaquin River Restoration, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation, Platte River Recovery Implementation and Gila River Basin Native Fishes Conservation.

PIT transmitters have been used to track fish as they travel past radio receivers in hydroelectric projects on the mainstem Columbia River. PIT tags can be tracked and monitored to calculate population estimates, life-cycle information, and survival and recruitment data.

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