Energy Department launches plan to grow US hydropower 50% by 2050

Today, only 3% of the nation’s dams currently generate electricity

Hydropower dam

WASHINGTON – The US Department of Energy has released a new report looking at the future of hydropower through 2050 that finds with continued technology advancements, innovative market mechanisms, and a focus on environmental sustainability, hydropower in the US could grow from 101 GW to nearly 150 GW of combined electricity generation and storage capacity by 2050.

The report, Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s First Renewable Electricity Source, says that achieving this level of growth would help advance America’s low-carbon economy and leverage renewable energy sources.

“Hydropower has provided clean, affordable, and reliable electricity in the US for more than a century, and pumped-storage complements today’s rapidly growing variable technologies such as wind and solar,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in a press release.

“The Hydropower Vision report clearly shows an expanded role for hydropower and pumped storage in our clean energy future.”

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The report highlights key advances in pumped-storage which can create an additional 36 GW of capacity (current capacity is 21.6 GW).

As more of the nation’s electricity comes from wind and solar energy, hydropower and pumped-storage resources can provide the flexibility and reliability the electricity grid needs to deliver affordable clean energy to American homes and businesses.

The report also highlights the current and future public health and environmental benefits of hydropower.

Between now and 2050, $209 billion in damages from greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided, $58 billion from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages due to air pollution, and 30 trillion gallons of water that would otherwise be used for steam generation or power plant cooling, according to the energy dept.

US hydropower and pumped-storage has the potential to increase and support the nation’s renewable energy portfolio while providing economic development by supporting more than 195,000 jobs and result in $150 billion in cumulative economic development by 2050.

The report includes a roadmap that defines a range of actions needed to realize the economic and social benefits of increased hydropower in the future based on three foundational “pillars” of optimization, growth, and environmental sustainability.

The roadmap finds that driving long-term cost reductions will require continued technology development and collaboration among industry experts, federal agencies, and academia.

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The Energy Department also announced today $9.8 million in available funding for up to 12 projects to develop innovative technologies that will reduce capital costs and deployment timelines for pumped-storage hydropower and non-powered dams.

The pumped-storage projects will study the feasibility of innovative concepts for closed-loop pumped-storage hydropower systems.

The non-powered dam technology projects will help tap this resource by supporting the development of low-head, modular designs that can reduce infrastructure and construction costs and operate flexibly over a range of conditions at existing dams.

The pumped-storage and non-powered dams projects support the Energy Department’s HydroNEXT initiative by developing and accelerating deployment of innovative technologies that lower costs, improve performance, and promote environmental stewardship.