U.S. Could Double Hydropower Production With Minimal Impact, Says Steven Chu

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More efficient turbines at existing hydroelectric projects or at dams without power components

Probably a Good Place to Start
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that hydropower capacity in the United States could “double with minimal impact to the environment”, mostly just by installing more efficient turbines at existing hydroelectric projects or at dams without power components, increasing the use of pumped-storage projects, and encouraging the use of run-of-the-river turbines. These kind of improvements to the existing infrastructure could apparently add 70,000 MW of capacity. “We will be pushing this,” Chu said at a White House forum. “We’re not talking about a lot of large, new reservoirs. Just work with what we have and it’s a massive amount of power.”

Hydropower accounts for 6 percent of the U.S.’s electricity consumption and nearly 75 percent of renewable power, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. But just 3 percent of the U.S.’s more than 82,000 hydroelectric projects generate electricity. Mark Garner, chief executive officer of Voith Hydro, said hydropower plants generate 98,000 MW of electricity and support about 300,000 jobs in the United States.

I think this is exactly the right approach. First, start by using what you already have before you start thinking about new projects. New large-scale hydro, if done right, would also help increase the share of renewable energy in the US. They would no doubt have an environmental impact, but inaction potentially has a much bigger impact, because if we want to replace coal, we’ll need everything we can get (wind, solar, geothermal, wave, efficiency… and hydro).

It Begins Now
In related news, the DOE has announced $30.6 million for upgrades to existing hydro. “U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced up to $30.6 million in Recovery Act funding for the selection of seven hydropower projects that modernize hydropower infrastructure by increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impacts at existing facilities. “

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