12 GW of new hydro potential seen in DOE report

Hydropower generation could increase by 12 GW, or about 15% of current capacity, without building one dam on the nation’s waterways.

That’s according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Energy released April 17 that details the potential to develop power generation at existing dams that aren’t currently equipped to produce electricity.

The report, titled An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States, analyzes more than 54,000 specific sites that could be developed to generate power. The report says that, if fully developed, the nation’s non-powered dams could provide enough energy to power over four million households. 

The Energy Department says the findings demonstrate one of the ways the nation can diversify its energy portfolio while achieving the Administration’s goal of generating 80% of our nation’s electricity from clean resources by 2035.

“As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above approach to American energy, expanding the deployment of America’s hydropower resources can help to diversify our energy mix, create jobs and reduce carbon pollution nationwide,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. “Together with new advances and innovations in hydropower technologies, the resource assessment released today can help use our existing infrastructure to further develop the country’s significant waterway resources.”

Dams of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Midwest and South offer the greatest potential. The lock and dam facilities on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas Rivers are facilities owned by the Army Corps.  The top 10 sites alone have the potential to provide approximately 3 GW of generating capacity, while the top 100 sites together could potentially provide 8 GW.  Many of these dams could also likely be converted to power-generating facilities with minimal impact to critical species, habitats, parks or wilderness areas.

The assessment also finds many potential hydropower sites are located in areas of the country, the South, in particular, with fewer wind or solar resources. And because hydropower provides reliable baseload power day and night, developing existing dams could also provide flexibility and diversity to the electric grid and allow utilities to integrate other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

This report was produced by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in partnership with Idaho National Laboratory.