In January 2006, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) issued a report
concluded that there are a large number of opportunities for increasing
hydroelectric generation throughout the United States. These opportunities
collectively represent a potential for approximately doubling U.S.
hydroelectric generation (not including pumped storage), but more
realistically offer the means to at least increase hydroelectric generation
by more than 50 percent.
The 68-page report "Feasibility Assessment of the Water Energy Resources
the Untied States for New Low Power and Small Hydro Classes of Hydroelectric
Plants" found that, with the exceptions of part of most of eight
potential hydropower projects are abundant throughout the country.
For its study, the INL used a run-of-river model, which employs a penstock
to direct water through a powerhouse and then back into streams without
impoundment of water. For the addition of powerhouses to existing dams
for adding capacity to existing hydropower operations, the INL considered
assortment of current turbine technologies.
The INL evaluated the likelihood of development based on land use and
environmental sensitivities, prior development, site access, and load
transmission proximity, and only included those sites in its estimate
met all of the criteria. For new sites, only streams that demonstrated
greater than 10 akW and were within one mile of a road and transmission
lines, a power plant or substation -- or were within a distance of
population centers comparable to other power plants of the same power
in the area -- were included. Funding of potential projects, however,
not addressed in the report.
INL found that of the approximately 300,000 MWa of total, gross power
potential of U.S. natural stream water energy resources, only about 10
percent has been developed. About 30 percent are located in zones where
development is unlikely. The remaining 60 percent of over 170,000 MWa
not been developed and are not restricted from development based on
information sources used in the assessment.
Of this potential, it was found that nearly 100,000 MWa of gross power
potential could feasibly be developed. This feasible potential corresponds
to nearly 130,000 potential low-power and small hydro projects. Estimation
of the hydropower potential of these sites indicates 30,000 MWa of new
supply could feasibly be developed in the United States.
The West is home to nearly 20,000 MW of these undeveloped, prime hydropower
opportunities. Moreover, the sum of feasibly developable hydropower in
Western states roughly equals the region's developed hydropower, in terms
potential average megawatts.
The potential sites evaluated in the West were for small damless hydropower
operations of up to 30 MW and for low-power operations of less than 1
which could account for 10,000 MW, in addition to adding powerhouses at
existing dams and expanding capacity at existing hydroelectric plants,
could account for another 10,000 MW. Combined they could contribute toward
the Western Governors' Association's (WGA) goal of developing 30,000 MW
clean energy in the West.
Of the 18 Western states represented by the WGA, Six western states -
Alaska, Washington, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana - have the
highest hydropower potentials. From the perspective of the density of
hydropower potential (kWa/sq.mi.) that could feasibly be developed, Hawaii
and Washington have the highest densities of feasibly developable resources.
With the exception of Washington, which already has the highest amounts
hydroelectric generation among the states by a wide margin, these six
western states have sufficient hydropower potential to increase their
generation by between 60 an 1600%. Alaska has sufficient hydropower
potential to increase its hydroelectric generation by nearly a factor
of 16. Hawaii, if it developed its potential projects, would also increase its
hydroelectric generation by more than a factor of ten.
However, there are a large number of feasible potential projects to choose
from, and they are located such that most states could benefit from a
significant amount of additional renewable energy if they were developed.
In fact, by comparing hydropower potential associated with feasible projects
to the total annual average power of the existing hydroelectric plants
the state, it was found that 33 states could increase their hydropower
generation by 100 percent or more and 41 states could realize increases
of more than 50 percent.
In total, development of the 5,400 feasible small hydro projects alone
would provide more than a 50 percent increase in U.S. hydroelectric generation.
The majority of the identified feasible hydropower potential could be
harnessed without constructing new dams and by using existing techniques
and technologies developed over the long and extensive history of installing
small hydroelectric plants in the U.S. In fact, 84 percent of the identified
hydropower potential could be developed using existing
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The complete 68-page study "Feasibility Assessment of the Water
Resources of the United States for New Low Power and Small Hydro Classes
Hydroelectric Plants, January 2006" can be found at:
An article which examines the hydropower potential in western states,
on this study, was published in the April 7, 2006 edition of "Energy
Prospects" newsletter. It can be found at: