October 25, 2019 (Guest post for Renewables Now by Martin William)
With the US traditional power grid becoming increasingly backlogged, companies and government-run research initiatives are researching ways to make renewable power more available. Solar and wind projects are popping up all over the country but there is unlimited water power that has yet to be properly harnessed.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is currently in the process of beginning a massive research and development project to take advantage of the country's most underused resource with its HydroNext initiative. Their aim is to lower the costs associated with hydroelectric power dams while continuing to care for the surrounding environments with low impact designs, the use of inflatable pipe plugs to control flow and other innovative techniques.
They are focusing their research on the three main areas of potential hydro sources that could boost the existing power grid with easier integration. Investigations to undeveloped streams, improvement of existing hydro sources and the creation of sustainable pumped storage are the main focus.
Montana Tech is one of the newest partners to join the HydroNext Team. They will be working as one of the six grant recipients around the country with Absaroka Energy to study the best ways to make these renewable solutions into realities.
Currently, over 90% of all of the dams in the US are not being utilized for hydroelectric power. That is a significant potential resource that is being ignored. Most of these dams have been built and designed to control water flow into a specific area and not to create any subsidiary power.
There are currently 50,000 dams across the country that have the potential to be turned into powerful sources of hydro energy. The estimate is that by harnessing this existing power by adding power stations to the already present infrastructure, over 12 GW could be added to the grid annually.
By adding power stations to existing dams instead of spearheading newer and larger projects, HydroNext will be able to save time, money and maintain a much lower scope of impact on the surrounding environments. The blueprints are already set with these untapped stations.
There are close to 3 million untapped streams and rivers in the U.S. that have the potential as hydro sources. Part of the focus of the Electrical Engineering department from Montana Tech will be to investigate these sources for their power outage and suitability for dam or turbine sites. The research and development teams will be focused on creating innovatively designed systems that carry the lowest possible environmental footprint while putting out the highest energy yields.
The DOE has selected the Gordon Butte Pumped Storage Project as the center of study for the Montana Tech study project. Absaroka Energy is currently spearheading that project and will be working closely with the D.O.E and Tech teams to create new and sustainable power solutions.
The USD 1.25 million dollar DOE grant will be used over a 24 month time period to design and implement a clear plan of action for the future of hydropower harnessing. They want to focus on how the use of Ternary pumped storage technology may be able to mitigate the issue with current grid integration from hydropower.