Technology Gaps

To assure the Nation’s energy reliability through a flexible, reliable grid, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) enables research, development, and testing of next-generation hydropower and pumped storage systems. WPTO is interested in furthering the development hydropower in the following areas:

Turning Non-Powered Dams into Energy Generators/ Low-Head Hydropower – Develop innovative modular systems, that turn existing non-powered dams (often used to regulate water for navigation, flood control, irrigation, water supply, or recreation) into electricity generating power stations. To expand the Nation’s hydropower generating capabilities, develop innovative technology that can be applied at low-head sites (sites that operate with a change in elevation ranging from 2 to 20 meters). Such waterways are often present at existing non-powered dams, canals, and conduits across the country.[1]  See a WPTO-funded technology example.

Materials and Manufacturing – There is a need to develop and test new materials and manufacturing techniques that will improve the performance and lower the life-cycle cost of turbine runners, draft tubes, and penstocks, as well as find ways to improve generator efficiency and reliability.[2] And, to take advantage of the tremendous hydropower opportunity  offered by undeveloped U.S. rivers and streams (stream-reaches), we need to develop innovative design and construction methods, as well as optimized materials that limit environmental disturbance. [3] It is important to develop technologies and strategies to avoid, minimize, or mitigate environmental impacts.[4]

Hydropower Hybrids – demonstrations of hybridized hydropower operations in which hydropower is co-located and co-operated with another type of generation or with an energy storage resource. Synergies between hydropower and other resource characteristics can expand capabilities to provide enhanced grid services, reduce machine wear-and-tear, and mitigate environmental impacts. [5]

Hydropower Information Systems – Systems for gathering and sharing hydropower data are needed as hydropower becomes an expanding source of energy to the grid. Systems are needed to access the condition of existing hydropower facilities, to report water-use and plant capacity, and measure energy generation. Developing digitization systems and advanced sensor suites will empower data-driven decisions on operation, maintenance, and asset management. New cybersecurity tools are needed to assess security risks and prevent/recover from attacks. [6]

Develop Hydropower Flexibility – Tackle component-level constraints to a hydropower facility's flexibility; develop operational strategies, model enhancements, and related tools that can allow individual plants or coordinated sets of plants (e.g., in cascading river systems) to increase their net flexibility. [7]


Updated by Tina Allen, January 2024