The total installed capacity of conventional hydropower in the United States is approximately 77 GW and that capacity generates 220 to 350 TWh of annually. In addition, 20 GW of pumped-storage hydropower projects are in operation.

Hydropower is currently the largest source of renewable electricity in the U.S., but its share has been falling in recent years as other nonhydropower renewable-energy projects are growing and hydropower development has stagnated. Nevertheless, recent assessments of the undeveloped hydropower resources indicate a substantial potential to increase hydropower.

The National Hydropower Association (NHA) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have declared that doubling hydropower is a feasible goal over the next several decades. The types of undeveloped hydropower resources may include

  • Operational improvements;
  • Efficiency and capacity upgrades through new hardware at existing projects;
  • New power plants at nonpowered dams;
  • New, small projects on natural water features that are compatible with the environment;
  • New developments on existing, man-made, constructed waterways and pipelines; and
  • Pumped-storage hydropower projects.

Many of these undeveloped hydropower resources can be developed without constructing new dams. All new development must be designed and operated so as to be environmentally sustainable. Many of the technological improvements in environmental-mitigation technologies are designed to expand the amount and flexibility of hydropower generation while maintaining or improving environmental performance.

Water Use Optimization

Sandia will modify and extend the functionality of our hydropower temperature-impact model, developed for the Willamette River Basin in Oregon, to fill the seasonal and multiseasonal analysis role within the hydropower optimization project toolset. Key to this work will be the addition of specific reservoir rules and operational constraints and environmental-performance metrics to the existing model. While the initial model development will be specific to the Willamette Basin, the framework will be developed in such a way as to allow for easy transfer and application to other basins.

The Sandia hydropower analysis tool will integrate over time the impacts that near-term operational decisions have over seasonal and multiseasonal time scales with regard to power generation, environmental performance, and other hydro-project objectives. Its design will be to provide optimization constraints and bounds to other tools in the toolset that are optimizing over shorter time scales. It will also serve as a stand-alone analysis tool to perform trade-off modeling and scenario testing for operators and planners. As part of the tools development, Sandia will work with the labs to develop input and output protocols that will provide the intercomponent communication links.

Transfer to and use by the conventional hydropower industry of the toolset suite and/or its individual components is central to meeting the objective of this project. While we will develop the toolset to be applicable to multiple hydroclimatic regions within the U.S., testing the tools using site specific or regional data will be necessary to demonstrate the utility of the toolset to hydropower stakeholders. The project will rely on members of the technical review team and other industry contacts to identify, provide data, and access to specific locations for testing and demonstration of the toolset. Use of these sites for conduct of this study will engage plant operators, help assure that the tool set suite is applicable to informing operational decisions in real world conditions, and increase the likelihood and success of technology transfer and market impact. Following site determinations, the team will design and implement study tests and conduct related analysis and assessment and follow-up toolset modification. Results will be documented and made available to member of the technical review team and other stakeholders.

The ultimate goal of this project can only be realized if the suite of tools developed here is transferred to and applied by the hydropower industry. To help facilitate this application, the study team will use sites managed or operated by key members of the Advisory Committee (e.g., Western, Reclamation, and MWH) for development, demonstration, and testing.