Hydro Power, Real Renewable Energy

There are 54,000 dams in the United States, higher than 5 Ft., which are not currently equipped to generate electricity.

The Department of Energy (DOE) determined that these non-powered dams (NPDs) could provide 12,000 MW of generating capacity.

A mere 100 of them could provide 8,000 MW of generating capacity.

One would think that this would be good news, especially for those who are clamoring for more renewable energy.

But NPDs have a stigma attached to them. According to Andreas Maeck, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, small hydro dams produce Methane, a green house gas 25 times more powerful than CO2.

Environmentalists around the world have fought against large hydro projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China, because they damage the river’s ecology and produce Methane gas.

But now, they oppose small dams too. But environmentalists need energy storage to support unreliable wind and solar, and are proposing pumped storage, which requires building dams, as a method for storing energy.

One wonders why environmentalists can’t agree on what is a renewable energy source and what isn’t.

A Connecticut energy bill, for example, was tied up for months because environmentalists opposed categorizing hydropower from Quebec, Canada, as renewable, but finally agreed to make it a “last resort renewable” for the state’s renewable energy program.

The US has over 2,500 dams that provide 78,000 MW of conventional and 22,000 MW of pumped-storage hydropower.

Adding an additional 8,000 MW of new hydropower, at low cost, since the dams are already built, would seem to be a valuable addition to the U.S. renewable energy portfolio.

DOE Report on Non-Powered Dams
DOE Report on Non-Powered Dams

In several ways, NPDs are better than wind turbines. First, they don’t kill birds and bats. Second, the power would be dispatchable. Third, their capacity factor could easily be twice that of wind turbines.

Supporting these advantages is a DOE study that estimated the capacity factor (CF) for dams installed with generation equipment would average 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%.

Adding generating equipment to these 100 NPDs would be equivalent to building four nuclear power plants, each rated 1,000 MW with capacity factors of 90%.

Building four nuclear power planets will cost around $24 billion. While the DOE report didn’t estimate how much it would cost to equip the 100 NPDs to generate electricity, it’s obviously much less than the cost of four nuclear power plants, and probably between $4 and $6 billion.

In addition, the design life of a nuclear power plant is 40 years, with a planned extension of an additional 20 years. Hydropower plants will easily last longer than the 60 year potential life of a nuclear power plant.

Building wind farms that would generate a comparable amount of electricity, though it would be unreliable, would cost over $20 billion if the capacity factor of the NPDs is 43%, the lower end of the projected range for NPDs, or over $30 billion if the capacity factor of the NPDs is 67%.

And the NPD power plants would last at least four times as long as wind farms and solar power plants.

Hydropower from the 100 NPDs is a renewable energy source that is more beneficial and less costly than building wind farms or solar power plants.

Where is the hue and cry to have these 100 NPDs equipped to generate electricity?

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