What is hydropower?
The power of water has been used to perform work for thousands of years. Since flowing water has energy that can be captured and turned into electricity, hydroelectric power, also known as hydropower, became an electricity source in the late 19th century.
Hydropower is one of the largest producers of renewable energy today. It also plays an important role in supporting other renewable energy sources such as fast-growing solar and wind power. When the sun isn’t shining and the wind dies down, those energy sources can’t produce electricity. Hydropower can help by releasing more water from its reservoirs to increase electricity generation. On the other hand, when there is too much wind and solar generation available, hydropower can store surplus energy as water in reservoirs for later use.
There are several types of hydropower plants:
- Run-of-river plants store little or no energy. Their ability to generate electricity varies by the water flow of the river.
- Reservoir plants have storage capabilities, and they can adjust their electricity generation based on demand.
- Pumped storage hydropower (PSH) plants operate as large water batteries. PSH plants circulate water between two bodies of water that are at different elevations — one higher and one lower. Water is pumped into the upper body of water to store energy, and then released into the lower body of water when there is a need to generate electricity. PSH plants currently provide about 93% of all utility-scale energy storage in the U.S.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have been helping meet the world’s growing demand for hydropower for over 35 years. Since building new hydropower plants or updating existing once can be challenging, Argonne has developed computer models that are now used in over 20 countries to help governments and grid operators plan their power grids, improve water use, determine capabilities and provide cost-benefit estimates of hydropower services.
Argonne scientists have also teamed up with other U.S. national laboratories and PSH developers to create a valuation guidebook to help decision-makers expand existing plants or build new facilities.
Argonne’s capabilities help the hydropower industry by:
- Researching how hydropower plays an important role in clean energy by providing much-needed electricity to fill in gaps when solar or wind power are unavailable
- Offering state-of-the-art modeling tools, applications and analysis that can be used worldwide.
- Providing access to world-class supercomputing to expand modeling complexity and reduce processing times for faster results by using the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.