The Hydropower Technology Challenge

New development must sustain stream functions as it produces power at competitive rates

Hydropower development at a site where no structures have existed is a complex and uncertain undertaking. In the balance are the essential and highly-valued functions of the stream, the benefits of the clean renewable energy to be produced, and the costs of creating and deploying technology that can sustain stream functions while producing energy. Project development that does not sustain or enhance stream functions is now a part of history rather than best practice. Creating and deploying environmentally compatible technology that produces renewable power benefits at low cost and good value is the existential challenge for new hydropower projects

A Novel Approach to Technology and Design Solutions

Stream functionality, standardization, and modularity are the keys to feasibility.

SMH focuses on stream functionality, standardization, and modularity as primary pathways to environmentally compatible, cost-optimized hydropower project development. The SMH hypothesis is that if these important concepts become essential and fully realized features of hydropower technology, project design, and regulatory processes, they will enable previously unrealized new project development with increased acceptance, reduced costs, increased predictability of outcomes, and increased value to stakeholders.

Stream power and stream functionality are overarching concepts within the SMH research and development effort. The stream, with its flowing water, powers important functions for its environment. Examples of functions include transporting sediment to form the stream channel and create habitat for plants and animals; rushing over rocks and boulders to create the rapids, riffles, and pools that boaters enjoy; providing a riverscape with pleasing aesthetics; and providing a quality source for drinking water. A comprehensive list of stream functions must come from ongoing dialogue with water resources stakeholders. The power of the stream is allocated naturally to these functions.

The addition of hydropower production, and the resulting reallocation of stream power, must not threaten the viability of the existing stream functions. A major initial portion of the SMH research effort will be on translating the viability of existing stream functions, along with hydropower production, into functionalities, objectives, requirements, and constraints for the design and deployment of new hydropower technology. As these specifications are clarified, the focus of the research and development effort will shift to optimizing technology that meets the specifications while reducing overall costs of manufacturing, installation, operation, and recovery.

Standardization in the SMH domain signifies the availability of technology in pre-designed and rigorously specified configurations for which the geometry, performance, environmental and social impacts, and costs are well-established, documented, and accepted by designers, buyers, regulators, and other stakeholders. Modularity in the SMH domain represents the availability and capability of technology to be deployed in multiple locations as an integrated arrangement of multiple standard units, each with a dedicated purpose, to provide the overall functionality and scale appropriate for a proposed development site. When implemented together, standardization and modularity should improve environmental outcomes and enhance value in design, fabrication, installation, operation, and replacement of technology. They also should reduce the effort and cost required to analyze designs, predict impacts, and monitor installations to ensure that public safety and stream functionality are sustained.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy