There are 54,000 dams in the United States that are higher than 5 ft., and do not currently have equipment installed for generating electricity.
An assessment by the Department of Energy (DOE) of all non-powered dams (NPDs) in the United States determined that these dams could provide 12,000 MW of generating capacity.
A mere 100 of them could provide 8,000 MW of generating capacity.
The report did not determine the cost of installing generating equipment at these existing dams, but there is little doubt that these dams could generate electricity at a lower cost than wind turbines.
The cost of building the dams has already been incurred, and since the dams are already built, there would be little environmental impact. For example, they wouldn’t kill birds and bats as do wind turbines.
The electricity from the NPDs would be dispatchable, and would therefore have greater value to grid operators than electricity generated from wind farms.
The DOE study was conservative, and estimated that the capacity factor (CF) for dams installed with generation equipment would on average be around 43%. The location of the 100 NPDs having the best potential are in areas where the capacity factor could easily be higher. Figure 9 in the report shows CFs for these areas of between 43% and 67%.
It’s interesting to compare the 100 best NPDs with the over 8,000 wind turbines installed during 2011 and 2010.
These 100 NPDs would produce more electricity than all the approximately 8,000 wind turbines installed during the past two years.
They also wouldn’t require expensive gas turbine backup generators running 24/7, ready to step in when the wind stopped blowing.
This begs the question as to why this administration hasn’t stressed generating electricity from the 100 NPDs having the greatest potential for generating electricity, rather than promoting subsidies for wind.
The subsidies for wind can be eliminated and we can still generate renewable electricity that’s dispatchable, low cost and reliable – and without building new dams.
- Capacity factor measures the amount of electricity actually produced over the period of a year, compared with what could theoretically have been produced based on the nameplate rating of the unit.
- The NPDs and associated generating equipment are not the small, experimental Hydrokinetic units that would be installed in rivers and which have been promoted by Greenpeace.
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