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Departments of Energy and Interior award nearly $17M for advanced hydropower technologies

The US Departments of Energy (DOE) and of the Interior (DOI) together will award nearly $17 million in funding over the next three years for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology. Sixteen projects in 11 states were selected through a competitive grant process for their ability to contribute to the development of innovative technologies that produce hydropower more efficiently, reduce costs and increase sustainable hydropower generation.

These projects will advance sustainable renewable energy generation from small (less than 30 MW) hydropower resources; enhance environmental performance of hydropower; test innovative, cost-effective technologies for hydropower development at low-head (less than a 30-foot drop) sites such as irrigation canals and non-powered dams; and spur deployment of pumped storage hydropower. By allowing utility operators to pump water up to a dam or impoundment during periods of low electricity demand and release water during times of peak electricity demand, pumped storage hydropower improves the reliability of electric grids and helps increase the use of variable renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power.

The selections focus on four approaches to advancing hydropower in the United States:

  • Sustainable Small Hydropower: Nine projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $5.8 million and one project jointly funded by DOE and DOI will receive $1.5 million to research, develop, and test low-head, small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed at existing non-powered dams or constructed waterways. These projects will focus on system or component model development, as well as the real-world testing of these systems.

  • Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower: Two projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $6.8 million to spur deployment of advanced pumped storage hydropower in the United States. One award will conduct pre-construction, geotechnical evaluations for a pumped storage hydropower project in the early stages of development that will use advanced technology to dynamically respond to the electrical grid, enabling the integration of wind and solar energy. DOE is also supporting analyses that calculate the economic value of pumped storage hydropower.

  • Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower: Three projects awarded by DOE will receive a total of $2 million to develop innovative hydropower technologies that will enhance environmental performance while increasing electricity generation, mitigating fish and habitat impacts and enhancing downstream water quality.

  • Advanced Hydropower System Testing at a Bureau of Reclamation Facility: One project jointly funded by DOE and DOI will receive $746,000 to support system tests of innovative, low-head, small hydropower technologies at a non-powered site owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation. DOE’s funding is targeted at research and development, whereas the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding is targeted at implementation. Energy cost reductions demonstrated at this site could be replicated at other Bureau of Reclamation sites.

Sustainable Small Hydro
GranteeFunding (DOE unless noted)Project description
Earth by Design $1,500,000 This project will develop and test a new low-head modular hydropower technology in a canal in Oregon's North Unit Irrigation District to produce cost-competitive electricity.
Hydro Green Energy $1,500,000 This project will develop, install and evaluate new low-head modular hydropower turbines at a constructed waterway in Austin, TX.
Percheron Power $1,495,427 (DOE/DOI) This project will install the nation’s first Archimedes Hydrodynamic Screw hydropower system in Washington’s Potholes East Canal for evaluation. The system may eventually be deployed at low-head sites throughout the Columbia Basin Project and in other man-made waterways.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District $1,494,750 This project will develop a new small powerhouse to utilize the increased minimum flows at Slab Creek reservoir, using a novel approach to siting. The project will show how two smaller units can generate more electricity than one larger unit.
Hydro Green Energy $300,000 This project will design, build, test and validate a stackable, modular low-head hydropower turbine that can be used for water projects such as existing locks and dams that aren’t currently equipped to produce hydropower.
Near Space Systems $300,000 This project will develop modular designs for new innovative hydropower turbines to harness energy from outlet pipes, incorporating a novel generator design.
Natel Energy $300,000 This project will develop and evaluate a new type of powertrain for the Schneider Linear hydroEngine, which is expected to decrease the cost of energy for low-head hydropower projects.
New Mexico State University $299,312 This project will design, build, test and validate two prototype devices that will harvest the maximum amount of energy from low-head dams and drops in the waterway.
Walker Wellington $93,000 This project will validate the design of a direct-drive, modular turbine-generator for manmade water structures with various head and flow conditions. The project will support commercialization of the generator.
Weisenberger Mills $56,000 This project will evaluate variable speed, permanent magnet generators for small low-head hydropower. The new technology could increase efficiency, allowing generators to obtain more energy from the same amount of water.

Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower
GranteeFunding (DOE unless noted)Project description
Sacramento Municipal Utility District $4,961,138 This project will reduce risk and subsequent costs by conducting geotechnical investigations of the mountain where the Iowa Hill Pumped Storage project’s water conveyance and powerhouse will be located, and by analyzing the value of energy and ancillary services it will provide. Both tasks are critical in reducing financial uncertainty of the 400 MW pumped storage project that will support integration of variable renewable energy resources such as wind and solar in California.
Argonne National Laboratory $1,875,000 This project will model, simulate and analyze operations of an advanced pumped storage hydropower facility in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council. The project will provide a comprehensive study of the technical and market operations, economics, and contribution to power system stability of pumped storage hydropower.

Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower
GranteeFunding (DOE unless noted)Project description
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) $1,500,000 This project will deploy and test the fish-friendly Alden Turbine in New York to generate electricity while allowing safe fish passage. The project proposes a three-year installation and test plan to verify model test data and fish survival predictions.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory $299,906 This project will re-design the Sensor Fish, a data collection device that measures movement, acceleration, rotation, and pressure changes on the device as it passes through a hydropower turbine, providing more accurate information on the forces that a fish may encounter. The new device, which is expected to be smaller and cheaper than previous devices, could be deployed through a wide range of model and prototype turbine testing, allowing for improved designs safer for fish passage.
Regents of the University of Minnesota $250,000 This project will develop a modeling tool to advance the development and implementation of aerating turbines at hydropower facilities to improve water quality. The project will combine a physical test bed with new analytical models for investigating how hydropower turbine blade shape and operation affect oxygen transfer and aeration.

System Testing at Bureau of Reclamation Facility
GranteeFunding (DOE unless noted)Project description
Natel Energy $746,042 (DOE/DOI) This project will deploy and test a scaled-up version of the modular Schneider Linear hydroEngine at a Bureau of Reclamation facility in Oregon, validating the commercial performance and economic feasibility of the device in low-head constructed waterway.



"Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society."

From Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address, delivered 17 January 1961



Higher productivity can make the country more competitiveness to survive in a free trade world. Productivity gains are very often associated with successful sustained R & D programs. Producing more clean energy from a given water volume is part of it and should be supported. In the last five years, our local Hydro energy firm doubled the energy output on the St-Lawrence river by changing the 32 turbines/generators, transformers and exercising better water level controls.

Combining Hydro and Wind power could be very successful, specially when hydro plants are over equipped by at least 50% to better meet peak demands and wind power is (100%) used for base loads. This way you use all (100%) of the wind power produced and you can operate your hydro plant with higher (max) water level for increased energy production per water volume. If this type of optimized combo + improved turbines/generators/transformers were widely used, hydro/wing power could supply a much higher percentage of the energy currently used. Many old coal fired power plants could be closed.


From those in the hydropower industry - how much of this hasn't already been studied?


kelly....Hydro power industry does NOT like Solar and Wind power and do their best to delay their efficient integration into their power grids. It is a power game. Combo e-energy production (Hydro-Wind-Solar) has to be forced on them. Resistance to change is still very strong but it is also futile in this case. Germany and Denmark have gone further than most to date. Many areas of Canada (any many other places) are well suited to combo higher efficiency power production.

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