The Scale of New Projects

Within the SMH domain, “small” implies two imprecise limits on the scale of a project: (1) the anticipated environmental footprint and impact of the development are small in comparison to the total benefits of the development, and (2) the anticipated revenue of the development is not great enough to support customized design, installation, or construction of structures and equipment. Thus “small” hydropower in this context can be interpreted subjectively as “environmentally compatible, cost-optimized” hydropower. It follows from these limits that environmentally compatible, cost-optimized hydropower will have immediate relevance for projects with installed capacity on the order of 10 megawatts (MWs) and less. SMH research, development, and testing will directly address these issues of scale as they relate to sustaining stream functions and achieving cost-competitive deployment.

Domestic Opportunities for SMH Deployment

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has identified roughly 12 GW of potential hydropower capacity at existing non-powered dams and 65 GW of potential hydropower capacity in un-impounded streams across the U.S. SMH technology will be applicable to non-powered dams and un-impounded streams. The SMH emphasis on preserving stream functionality in environmentally compatible, cost-optimized applications will increase the likelihood and breadth of successful development of this potential.

Global Opportunities

There are an estimated 173 GW of potential “small” hydropower capacity worldwide, of which 75 GW is currently installed. North America and Europe present good opportunities for SMH development of a low-carbon resource in highly-constrained markets, but there are also opportunities in less-developed regions of Asia and Africa. Beyond the over-arching concern of preserving stream functionality in these developing regions, there are challenges of site access, limited financial incentives, remote operations and maintenance, and insufficient data for hydrological and ecological characterization. Through modularity and standardization, SMH technology may enable a development model that is more flexible and feasible in the face of these regional challenges.

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