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DOE Releases New Hydro Assessment, NW Has Little
New Potential Left In Undeveloped Stream Reaches

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 9, 2016

Lower Granite Dam in SE Washington state impounds the Lower Snake forty miles up beyond the Idaho border. The nation's hydroelectric dams already provide about 10 percent of the nation's energy, delivering over 100 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy in July.

Some 2,198 hydropower plants nationwide have a total capacity of 79.6 GW. In addition, 42 pumped storage hydropower plants total 21.6 GW. Together, the installed capacity is 101 GW.

It's different here in the Northwest where 33 GW of hydropower (nearly a third of the nation's hydropower) provides about 50 percent of the energy and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has set aside about 44,000 miles of streams that are protected from further hydropower development simply because those habitats are important to fish and wildlife.

DOE laid out the assessment and a plan to increase that capacity nationwide by 50 GW by 2050 if certain financial and innovation objectives are met, according to a Northwest Power and Conservation blog published last week.

The biggest chunk of that new capacity nationwide is in pumped storage with about 36 MW identified by the report "Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America's 1st Renewable Electricity Source," released July 26.


The rest of the potential hydropower capacity identified in the report would come from upgrades to existing hydroelectric facilities (6 gigawatts), adding electricity to existing non-powered dams (5 gigawatts), and developing new stream reaches (1.7 gigawatts).

"In terms of the potential identified by the DOE assessment in the Pacific Northwest, we are very much on the same page," the Council blog said. "There is very little new hydropower potential left in the undeveloped stream reaches, however opportunities exist for upgrades and adding electricity to non-powered dams, along with pumped storage."

It said that the Council had already assessed hydropower's potential in the Northwest as it developed the Seventh Power Plan, which was approved in May 2016, concluding that the regional potential in new stream reaches is "extremely limited."

"Opportunities exist to upgrade the equipment at existing facilities and increase the efficiency, and sometimes the capacity, of projects," the blog says. "Many upgrades of hydropower dams in the region have already been completed and more are planned over the next decade."

For the Seventh Power Plan, see For the assessment of hydro's potential in the Northwest that is a part of that plan, see

Even pumped storage potential may be limited in the region, according to the Power Plan, which found that pumped storage is not economical in the region. However, the Council did identify pumped storage as an emerging technology that should be monitored for future applications, according to the blog.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says that pumped storage projects move water between two reservoirs located at different elevations (i.e., an upper and lower reservoir) to store energy and generate electricity. That transfer upstream is generally done when demand is low and so excess generation capacity can be used to pump the water. When demand is high, the water is released and used to generate electricity.

"Pumped storage projects are also capable of providing a range of ancillary services to support the integration of renewable resources and the reliable and efficient functioning of the electric grid," FERC added.

"With just about 100 gigawatts hydropower capacity installed in the United States (including pumped storage) over the past century, adding 50 gigawatts in just 35 years is no small feat," the Council blog concludes.

The DOE assessment sets out a detailed road map and actions for development.

It evaluated four categories of hydro projects:

  1. Existing hydropower plants that can be upgraded and optimized for increased generation and environmental performance;

  2. New power plants at existing non-powered dams and other water conveyance infrastructures such as irrigation canals;

  3. New and existing pumped storage facilities and upgrades; and

  4. New stream-reach development.
Some 9.4 GW of new capacity could be developed by 2030, most of which would be upgrades to existing facilities (5.6 GW) and powering non-powered dams (3.6 GW), the report predicts.

Long-term growth of 3.4 GW between 2030 and 2050 includes 1.7 GW of new stream reach development, for a total of 12.8 GW of new growth by 2050.

Under a range of scenarios, pumped storage capacity can rise by 16.2 GW by 2030, and 19.3 GW by 2050.

"The Hydropower Vision modeled capacity of 150 GW by 2050 yields a scenario under which a combined $209 billion savings from avoided global damages from GHG emissions is possible, including $185 billion in savings from the existing hydropower fleet being operated through 2050," the report says.

DOE Releases New Hydro Assessment, NW Has Little New Potential Left In Undeveloped Stream Reaches
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 9, 2016

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