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Hydropower Research & Development

The Water Power Program's hydropower research and development (R&D) efforts focus on advancing technologies that produce electricity from elevation differences in falling or flowing water. For more than 100 years, hydropower has been an important source of flexible, low-cost, and emissions-friendly renewable energy. The program is currently leading efforts to increase the generating capacity and efficiency at existing hydropower facilities, add hydroelectric generating capacity to non-powered dams, and improve the environmental compatibility of hydropower. One such notable effort has been the interagency Federal Memorandum of Understanding for Hydropower through which the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the Interior are continuing to advance their mutual goals for the development of clean, reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable hydropower generation in the United States. 

Hydropower technologies generate power by using a dam or diversion structure to alter the natural flow of a river or other body of water. The Department of Energy's "Hydropower 101" video explains how hydropower works and highlights some of the Water Power Program's efforts in R&D in this area.

The program's efforts fall under three categories: technology development; market acceleration and deployment; and resource assessment and characterization.

Technology Development 

The Water Power Program researches, develops, tests, and demonstrates advanced hydropower technologies that will increase generation and improve existing means of generating hydroelectricity. Specific activities include the following:

  • Conducting technology development and testing activities to provide the data and plans needed to prove advanced concepts and support future full-scale projects
  • Supporting the research and testing of hydropower optimization tools that will increase generation and improve the environmental performance of hydropower facilities.

Learn more by visiting the program's Hydropower Technology Development page.

Market Acceleration and Deployment 

The Water Power Program works to reduce the time and costs associated with permitting hydropower projects; to better quantify the potential magnitude, costs, and benefits of hydropower generation; and to identify and address other barriers to hydropower deployment. Specific activities include the following:

  • Designing, testing, and validating new ways to improve sustainability and reduce the environmental effects of hydropower generation on fish populations and ecosystems
  • Working to quantify the benefits of hydropower technologies, including the value of services that support the resilience of the electric grid
  • Evaluating the needs of the nation’s hydropower workforce, as well as the education and training programs that support it.

Learn more by visiting the program's Hydropower Market Acceleration and Deployment page.

Resource Assessment and Characterization 

The Water Power Program has released reports and maps that assess the nation's hydropower resources, including the potential for generating capacity additions for new low-impact and small hydropower generation. Specific activities include the following:

  • Assessing and mapping energy potential at non-powered dams
  • Studying and mapping the resource potential from untapped new stream-reaches
  • Evaluating and cataloguing existing hydropower assets.

Learn more by visiting the program’s Hydropower Resource Assessment and Characterization page.