Hydropower: Harnessing a Force of Nature

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 3:27 pm EDT


Eddie Temistokle, Toshiba America, Inc.

Hydropower accounts for nearly half of the country's rewnewable ppower

Over the last two decades, global demand for carbon-free power has skyrocketed, and this trend shows no signs of letting up. In the US, about half of the states have renewable portfolio standards that mandate 15% to 25% of installed power generation come from renewable sources by 2020 or 2025. Wind and solar energy can provide part of that, but their intermittent nature requires them to be backed up by energy storage. While batteries get most of the press, another option already exists and actually accounts for more than 95% of grid power storage: hydropower.

Humanity has long used water to create energy, and hydropower has also been a steady part of the US power landscape since the beginning of the country’s electrification. Hydropower accounts for about 6% of the nation’s electricity generation and nearly half (46%) of its renewable energy. Hydropower plants use gravitational potential energy—typically falling water—to spin a turbine, which runs a generator to create electricity. But an even more efficient and flexible technology is the Pumped Storage Power Plant (PSPP), which uses the same concept but with the water in a close-looped, dual-reservoir system, rather than falling from a dam. A PSPP system can reach 90% efficiency, whereas wind and solar PV typically have maximum efficiencies of about 40% and 24%, respectively.

While hydropower plants can be expensive to build, they are easy to maintain and can operate for upwards of 30 to 40 years without needing major repairs or overhauls. Moreover, the US can expand its conventional hydropower sources and limit further river impacts by using the country’s existing damns, of which about 75% do not have on-site hydropower.

Toshiba, a global hydropower market leader, has focused on improving existing hydropower plants, such the Ludington plant in Michigan, which began a major overhaul in 2011 that is expected to be complete by 2020. The Ludington plant is a clear example of how PSPP can be accomplished, and improved upon, for better grid stability and a reduced carbon footprint. By adding PSPP, the US can quickly and cleanly ramp up its energy storage needs with assets that are built to last a century or more.

To learn more about the hydropower market please download the recent Frost & Sullivan whitepaper Hydropower as the Future of Energy Storage: The Revival of a Trusted Technology from the link below.

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