The Scale of New Projects

Standardization and modularity can reduce site-specific complexities when developing new hydropower.

Recent resource assessments conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy demonstrate that significant opportunities exist for developing new hydropower and stress the importance of “avoiding or minimizing adverse environmental and social impacts” to achieve sizable small hydropower growth (DOE Hydropower Vision).

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.

In general, opportunities for new environmentally, compatible, cost-optimized small hydropower in the U.S. can be achieved through development at locations with:

  • heads of 30 feet or less and
  • power potentials of 10 megawatts (MWs) or 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.

Identifying Development Opportunities

A new paradigm in sustainable water management.

The SMH team is using a holistic approach to new development that categorizes similarities in stream characteristics to inform how modular hydropower and passage technologies could scale across many different sites.

Hydropower opportunities

Our vision is that future small hydropower development opportunities will be identified using a module-based site classification system that specifies an appropriate combination of generation, passage, and foundation modules needed to provide energy and environmental benefits. For new site development, a standardized stream type identification system coupled with a standardized facility design framework reduces the level of site specificity involved in design, lowering overall project costs and environmental settings. The SMH project is addressing this concept through Site Classification research. For more information on SMH research, please visit the Research page.

Beyond greenfield development

The SMH concept is applicable beyond new stream-reach development opportunities – electrification of non-powered dams, canals, and conduits could also be more readily achieved through use of a standardized site or dam classification system and a suite of standardized generation, passage, and foundation modules.    

Site classification may also be leveraged to identify degraded stream-reaches with poor water quality or limited connectivity.  These stream-reach classes may benefit from standalone modules (such as water quality, recreation, or fish passage modules) installed to maintain or enhance the stream environment.  Modular structures could be designed with or without hydroelectric generation capabilities to accomplish environmental objectives.

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