Small Hydropower Experiences Modest Growth, Says Study

Published December 5, 2018

While large hydropower projects are being developed around the world, in the United States, the growth of hydropower over the past decade has been from small hydropower projects of 10 megawatts (MW) or less, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The DOE report, “Small Hydropower in the United States” concludes small hydropower projects, through the addition of hydropower generation equipment to existing small dams and reservoirs, is the most cost-effective type of new hydropower development available in the United States. As a result, DOE says small hydropower projects have been the dominant trend in new hydropower development of the past decade and will remain so in the future.

DOE reports approximately 420 MW of new small hydroelectric development is currently planned, at 165 projects. Nationwide, small hydro currently accounts for approximately totals 3.6 gigawatts (GW) of hydroelectric capacity in the country, out of a total of 80 GW of hydroelectric capacity.

The report shows, despite federal support and recent legislative reforms to encourage new small hydropower development, federal, state, and local regulations still counts as among the biggest hurdles to new hydropower projects.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.