Non-powered dams have big energy potential in the United States


Don’t forget about hydropower

When talking about renewable energy source in the U.S., solar energy and wind energy typically dominate the conversation. But don’t sleep on hydropower.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), hydropower actually outpaced all other renewable sources in electricity generation in 2015. Last year, hydropower accounted for roughly 6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation, while wind power accounted for about 4.7 percent and solar energy trailed far behind with a 0.6 percent share.

All three of those renewable sources trail far behind coal, natural gas and nuclear power as electricity sources, but the three have made big increases in recent years. Coal and natural gas still each accounted for about a third of U.S. electricity in 2015, while nuclear energy powered about 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

The potential of NPDs

The EIA recently said that it expects about 1,083 megawatts (MW) of hydroelectric power capacity to be installed in the U.S. between 2015 and 2019. Of this expected 1,083 MW of new capacity, the EIA expects 39 percent (422 MW) to come from non-powered dams (NPDs). NPDs are already-existing dams that do not currently have electricity-generating capabilities.

Back in 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) estimated the power potential of NPDs in the U.S. and determined that NPDs had the potential to generate up to 12 gigawatts (GW) of electric power. With that in mind, the 422 MW of new electricity capacity that the EIA expects from NPDs between 2015 and 2019 is just the tip of the iceberg. The DOE believes that hydropower has far more potential than that modest gain.

Kentucky, West Virginia & Ohio

Kentucky and West Virginia will each see large increases in capacity from NPDs this year, the EIA noted. Kentucky should increase its hydroelectric capacities by about 32 percent in 2016, while West Virginia should see a 15 percent this year. Kentucky will increase its overall renewable capacity by 30% by the end of 2016.

Of all the new and planned NPD capacity additions, nearly three-fourths of them are taking place along the Ohio River. Since 2012, four NPD projects have started up along the Ohio River: Cannelton Hydroelectric Project, Meldahl Hydroelectric Project, Smithland Hydroelectric Project, and Willow Island Hydroelectric Project. According to the EIA, the completion of those four projects will result in a 130 percent increase in hydroelectric capacity along the Ohio River — from 313 MW to 554 MW.

Source → EIA