Until now, the US hydropower fleet has never been fully documented, but a new report conducted by the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has filled this gap, providing industry and policy makers with a full run-down on the country’s hydropower capabilities.
The first ever Hydropower Market Report (HMR), authored by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), details the 2,198 hydropower plants that make up the US fleet, which provide the country with approximately 7% of its electricity. The report also attempts to track trends “that have influenced the industry in recent years.”
“The people who make critical decisions about U.S. hydropower can now turn to one place to find information that has broad implications,” said ORNL researcher Rocio Uria-Martinez, who noted that the existing fleet has been constructed over the course of an entire century. “Hydropower has a long history but also a promising future as it continues to grow and play a key role in the nation’s power system.”
The US fleet includes 2,198 hydropower plants with a capacity of 79.64 GW, which equates to approximately 7% of all US generating capacity. Interestingly, however, half of that capacity is based in three states — Washington, California, and Oregon. In fact, even despite slow growth over recent years, hydropower remained the largest renewable energy source in the US in 2013.
On the other side of the coin, the report highlights the added benefits of hydropower:
“Hydropower projects support more than just the power system—most installed hydropower capacity, particularly in large projects, is connected to reservoirs that also provide recreation, flood control, irrigation, navigation, and/or water supply.”
Maybe the most recognizable name when it comes to US hydropower is that of Hoover Dam — the 2 GW behemoth built in the 1930s, and now the destination for nearly a million tourists each year. According to the report, the US Bureau of Reclamation “has installed new wide head range turbines at Hoover Dam that allow more efficient operation over a wider range of reservoir levels than the turbines used until now.”
Despite slow growth over the recent years, the report did highlight three areas where growth is still occurring: unit additions and upgrades at existing facilities; NPD and conduit projects to which hydropower generating equipment is added; and low-impact, new stream-reach developments (NSDs). Unit additions were primarily responsible for the net increase of 1.48 GW between 2005 and 2013, accounting for 86% of the increases.