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Hydroelectric dam

U.S. Hydropower Potential

Already a significant source of renewable energy in the United States, the Hydropower Vision report found that the nation’s hydropower capacity could sustainably grow from 101 gigawatts (GW) to almost 150 GW by 2050. That would significantly increase the nation’s clean energy generation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 5.6 billion metric tons—resulting in billions of dollars of economic savings, health benefits, and job growth. 

Table of economic, social, and health benefits of hydropower growth. Text on the table says: "Growing hydropower by 50 GW by 2050 means... Significant economic and social benefits... $209 billion savings from avoided global damages from GHG emissions, $58 billion savings in avoided mortality, morbidity, and economic damages from emissions reduction (SO4, NOx, and PM2.5), 30 trillion gallons of avoided water use, and 195,000 jobs supported. A healthier America - reductions in: 217,000 fewer cases of lower respiratory symptoms (Ages 7-14), 323,000 fewer cases of upper respiratory symptoms (asthmatics aged 9-11), 8,203,000 fewer minor restricted-activity days (Aged 18-65), 1,363,000 fewer lost work days (aged 18-65), 757,000 fewer cases of asthma exacerbation (Ages 6-18), and 4,965,000 fewer cases of acute respiratory symptoms (ages 18-65)."

To increase national hydropower capacity by 2050 requires a combination of new hydropower generation and pumped storage hydropower (PSH). The report detailed five areas for hydropower growth potential in the United States:

  1. Optimizing existing hydropower facilities to maintain, modernize, and improve operational efficiency. The existing fleet of hydropower facilities in the United States is aging, but upgrading and modernizing operations and technologies at these facilities could generate additional hydropower capacity and improved environmental performance.The breakdown of potential 101 GW of additional hydropower storage. Text says "35.5 GW of new pumped storage projects along with upgrades existing facilities, 4.8 GW new development on existing non-powered dams, 1.7 GW new stream-reach development, 101 GW today, and 6.3 GW upgrades at existing hydropower facilities."
  2. Electrifying non-powered dams to generate power. Only 3% of dams in the United States are equipped to generate power. Adding power generating facilities to existing non-powered infrastructure can often be achieved at lower cost, with less risk, and in a shorter timeframe than development requiring new dam construction. 
  3. Installing hydropower in existing water infrastructure like conduits and canals. Developing small hydropower projects could add additional hydropower capacity and support distributed energy systems for greater energy resilience in rural and remote areas.
  4. Developing hydropower projects on new stream reaches. Developing new hydropower projects on previously undeveloped sections of waterways could add significant new generating capacity. 
  5. Increasing PSH development. Increasing PSH by 35.5 GW could more than double the nation’s energy storage capacity—supporting further integration of other renewables by providing power during times of low wind and solar energy generation.