A time to catch the Sun

by John Brian Shannon

“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”

The Byrds

And so it is time — as a number of energy variables have changed.
Only 3% of America’s existing 80,000 dams, presently have electrical generators attached to them. Yes, you read right!
What could be better than 100% of America’s dams producing clean electricity — instead of only 3% — thereby adding 77,600 more dams to the U.S. hydroelectric power grid?
Run of river dam
Bonneville Dam, Oregon, Washington, Columbia River (Photo credit: photolibrarian)

Here are some other factors that you may want to consider.

  1. The 80% price drop for solar panels over the past 30 months. (Solar power is now priced comparably to other electricity)
  2. The dramatic fall of wind turbine prices.
  3. Two new laws signed by U.S. President Obama which will allow most of America’s hydro-electric dam operators to add electrical power generation equipment to existing dams.
  4. Run-of-River(small-scale) dams to be built, to produce electrical power in rivers which have yet to be tapped for power. These dams essentially section off some of the water running down the river, using a berm to sequester some of the flow, to direct it to turbines and electrical generators. Meanwhile, the rest of the river continues flowing unaffected. Think of a berm which directs 1/3rd of the river water off to the side, which then runs down through pipes and turbines to produce electrical power.
  5. Pumped Storage simplified. Think of a regular hydroelectric dam — the water flows down through the dam, the generator in the dam produces electricity. Simple enough. But with pumped storage, a water collection system below the turbines pumps the water back uphill behind the dam for reuse at a later time. Up ’till now, it has been hideously expensive to do that, as the cost to pump a million gallons of water uphill each day, was more than the dollars generated by the water as it ran downhill through the turbines in the first place! But now that solar power and wind power have become so competitively-priced, it is natural that they should be installed beside hydro-electric dams to provide power for pumped storage. If much of the water that spills over the dam produces electrical power — then pumping it back up behind the dam cheaply, means it can be used again and again to produce power. Solar panels (during the daylight hours) and wind turbines (at night) can provide the low-cost electricity to send the water back uphill into the reservoir.

Ready for some GigaWatt math?
a) Add electrical power generation to the 77,600 American dams that presently do not produce any electrical energy.
b) Add Pumped Storage units to ALL 80,000 of America’s dams.
c) Add Run of River electrical power generation complete with Pumped Storage to the country’s rivers. The potential number of R-of-R electrical power generation sites could be as high as 50,000.
If you add up all the potential power generation capacity of a, b, and c, it becomes a very large calculation, and you might find it is your “Turn, Turn, Turn” to buy a larger calculator!
By taking this clear and logical path, the U.S.A. would take a huge forward leap in its clean energy production and thereby allow some deteriorating coal and nuclear power plants to be quietly retired.
If you are a clean energy advocate and want to write to your member of Congress, tell them you want;
  • Electrical power generators ADDED to all existing 80,000 U.S. dams — which is 77,600 more than today
  • Pumped Storage ADDED to all 80,000 American dam sites
  • RUN OF RIVER hydroelectric power plants with Pumped Storage built right into new R-of-R plants
JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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New Hydropower Laws Could Add 60 GW Of Clean Energy To US Grid

by Silvio Marcacci — Special to JBS News

The one thing everyone working on energy issues in America can agree upon is non-existent energy policy action at the national level. But late last week President Obama signed two bipartisan bills that could create a major boost for US renewables generation from an unlikely source – small hydropower.

It’s kind of amazing they havn’t gotten much attention, since they’re the first real energy legislation to pass Congress since 2009.

These two bills, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, will streamline the regulatory process required to add new hydropower generation to existing dams or to upgrade existing hydro generation resources, and could unlock the untapped potential of thousands of miles of waterways and could create 1.2 million green jobs, while adding 60 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable electricity to the grid.

Hydropower’s Huge Potential

Hydropower may seem to be the under-appreciated stepchild of American electricity generation, but it generates 7% of America’s total electricity, and represents a whopping 56% of all renewables – more than all other clean energy sources combined.

Even though hydropower represents reliable baseload generation capacity that can balance out other renewables, it doesn’t create the same kind of excitement as solar or wind – perhaps because the potential for hydropower seems tapped out.
But a 2012 report from the Department of Energy underscored why overlooking hydropower’s potential was a mistake. 80,000 dams are in service across the US, but only 3% have installed generators. DOE’s report found America could create more than 12 GW of new generation capacity by installing turbines on 54,000 sites where they don’t currently exist and upgrading older generation technology with more efficient turbines.

Opening The Floodgates

Part of the reason American hasn’t added much new hydropower generation is because of red tape, with even the smallest proposals taking years to receive approval. But that’s just the problem these two bills will help solve.

“These bills are an excellent step to unlocking the tens of thousands of megawatts of untapped hydropower capacity that can provide millions of Americans greater access to affordable, reliable electricity,” said Linda Church Ciocci of the National Hydropower Association.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency bill modifies existing laws to streamline small hydro projects and add generation to existing dams and closed-loop energy storage through several steps:

  • Increasing the small hydro exemption to 10 megawatts (MW), up from 5 MW
  • Removing conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction
  • Increasing the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects
  • Giving FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits
  • Requiring FERC to explore a 2-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pump storage
Pumped hydro energy storage
Pumped hydro energy storage image via Shutterstock

In addition, the Small Conduit Hydropower Development bill authorizes the Interior Department to contract out small hydropower development at Bureau of Reclamation facilities across the US, helping add capacity at government property and irrigation canals.

“By cutting unnecessary Washington red tape, this law gives hydropower developers the certainty they need to move forward with new projects on over 40,000 miles of federal canals throughout the West,” said US Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).

Bipartisan Energy Policy: A Novel Idea

Hydropower facility modernization efforts have been underway across the country for several years, but they were covered by DOE stimulus funds, and with finite funding comes finite projects.

But now that federal policymakers have finally worked together in a bipartisan way to identify and knock down barriers to private investment, American could be flowing toward a hydro-powered future. Just imagine the potential if Congress could agree on any other clean energy issues.

About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.
This article, New Hydropower Laws Could Add 60 GW Of Clean Energy To US Grid, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.