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Hydropower: can the US fulfil its potential?

Posted by: Lauren Cox 27 Sep 16  | Renewable Energy

Hydropower has been firmly at the core of the renewable industry for more than a century now. Providing clean and reliable energy ahead of the trend, hydropower is now responsible for generating roughly 10% of US energy, remaining one of the largest sources of renewable energy to this day and powering over an impressive 20million homes!

However, it has recently been suggested that the US still haven’t fully tapped into a world of hydroelectric potential. So will hydropower play a vital role in the US renewable revolution? Is hydropower the answer to creating a low carbon economy, staring each of us in the face all this time?

Well, the US has approximately 2,500 conventional hydropower and pumped storage plants, five of which have a higher capacity than the world famous Hoover Dam – once the world’s largest dam. Nowadays, not only does the hydropower industry supply in excess of 55,000 direct jobs, supporting the nation’s economy, but it also puts the US as the fourth biggest hydropower player in the world succeeded only by China, Brazil and Canada.

But what’s next for the industry?

Well the US’ main priority lies in increasing hydropower generation at their existing plants in a bid to achieve their newly pledged target of 50% renewable energy by 2025.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, approximately $6billion has been invested over the last decade to facilitate renovation projects across the entire US hydropower fleet.

In addition to this a report released by the Department of Energy identified non-powered dams to hold vast possibility. Whilst 97% of existing dams in the US are not equipped to generate power, it is reported that 100 existing dams could increase current hydropower output by 15%.

What’s more is that by investing in new and existing hydropower projects as well as new technologies, the US can improve flexibility and security of the power grid.

It’s safe to say that hydropower is still well and truly in the mix, alongside a whole host of exciting new renewable sources and emerging technologies, and will be for years to come. The extent of which, however, remains in vague. Should the US unleash the full potential of hydropower, they may be in with a pretty good chance of achieving their renewable target. Conversely, with the continual development of innovative renewable resources, could a new source pip it to the post? 


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