National Labs and Water Power

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National laboratories that work with the Water Power Technologies Office

Stemming from immense government investment in scientific research during World War II, the Energy Department's national laboratories have served as the leading institutions for scientific innovation in the United States for more than seventy years. Today, 17 national laboratories address large-scale, complex research and development challenges with a multidisciplinary approach that translates basic science to innovation.

The Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) funds several national labs to conduct early-stage research to accelerate innovative water power technologies. The national labs also work with industry, academia, and many other stakeholders to solve scientific challenges while providing test facilities, sophisticated instrumentation, and deep expertise. 

National Laboratories with Water Power Expertise

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois

Argonne, Illinois

Multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) are advancing basic energy science, focusing their research and development on a broad portfolio of sustainable and clean energy technologies. In water power, ANL has developed detailed models of advanced pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) plants as well as new methods and tools for optimization and valuation of hydropower resources. Major water power research areas include:

  • Environmental analysis and assessment
  • Systems and integration analysis
  • System, plant, and generating unit performance optimization
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Power market analysis.

Review a presentation that details ANL’s work in developing a river-based hydropower system that integrates energy storage.

Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, ID

Idaho Falls, Idaho

While Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development, INL applies a considerable depth of expertise in electrical power generation and distribution systems to challenges associated with renewable energy development, including grid development, mechanical design, reservoir assessment and monitoring, and advanced control systems.​ Major water power research areas include:

  • Dynamic system modeling and analysis
  • Technologies and resource assessments
  • Grid value analysis
  • Advanced control systems
  • System integration.

Review a presentation that details INL’s work in developing a river-based hydropower system that integrates energy storage.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado

Golden, Colorado

For more than 40 years, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has advanced the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies. NREL supports the responsible deployment of hydropower through research in grid optimization, regulatory roadmapping, and economic analysis. NREL also supports the marine energy industry by leveraging vast experience gained in wind and water power research and development, along with established testing capabilities and facilities. Major water power research areas include:

  • Laboratory and field technology validation and optimization
  • Power system design and market value analysis
  • Turbine and generator electrical and mechanical system design
  • Industry workforce and educational development
  • Market barrier mitigation research, analysis, and outreach.

Read about NREL’s work to developing an interactive hydropower regulatory roadmap toolkit for hydropower and pumped storage development projects.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

With 4,750 staff, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) conducts research in nuclear technologies, clean energy, and super computers. In water power, ORNL is focused on maintaining and sustaining the existing fleet of hydropower assets, increasing the supply of sustainable low-cost hydropower generation and services, and enhancing public and private capabilities to balance environmental and hydropower production objectives. Major water power research areas include:

  • Component and project design, optimization, and simulation
  • Resources measurement, monitoring, and modeling
  • Materials science and advanced manufacturing
  • Economic analyses and modeling
  • Environmental impacts assessment.

Learn about ORNL's work to define design parameters for a new class of modular hydropower technology that reduces cost and has a smaller physical and environmental footprint.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington

Richland, Washington

Since 1965, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has translated scientific discoveries into tools and technologies for science, energy, the environment, and national security. Energy researchers focus on issues from grid modernization and building controls to providing scientifically defensible solutions for legacy waste. Work in water power includes development of fish-friendly hydropower turbines, wave energy characterization, and advanced sensor systems that track animal-technology interactions. Major water power research areas include:

  • Technology design, evaluation, and validation of environmental performance
  • Valuation, market analysis, and grid integration
  • Advanced materials and coatings
  • System-scale modeling and analysis
  • Knowledge management, synthesis, and dissemination

Read about PNNL’s work to provide valuable research on how hydropower affects fish migration. 

Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Keeping the U.S. nuclear stockpile safe, secure, and effective is a major focus of Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), but the labs also support a secure energy mix by enabling an uninterrupted and enduring supply of energy from domestic sources, while assuring the reliability and resiliency of energy infrastructure. In water power, Sandia developed tools for optimizing the performance of the U.S. hydropower fleet with minimal environmental impact and worked to improve the power performance and reliability of marine energy technologies. Major water power research areas include:

  • Nonlinear controls development
  • High-fidelity modeling
  • System design and testing
  • Resource characterization
  • Environmental modeling and cost analysis.

Learn about Sandia’s work to develop WEC-Sim, an open source numerical modeling code that can be used by the wave energy industry to develop the next generation of wave energy converter technologies.

How to Work with the National Labs

The Energy Department’s national labs have strong partnerships with industry, government, academia, small businesses, international, and nonprofits to advance the research and development of U.S. water power. Whether an organization wants to partner with a lab to solve a specific problem, access unique testing facilities and instrumentation, or learn more about research and development opportunities available, more information about partnerships can be found on each lab’s partnering, technology transfer, or commercialization web pages. 

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