Developing resilience opportunities for American hydropower


Power is essential. Service disruptions can severely impact our communities, industries and lives. Resilient power systems are designed to fail less often and for shorter time. From integrating energy storage into run-of-river hydropower, to mapping irrigation-related data, the Water Power group at INL brings together world-class expertise with innovative technology to further hydropower research.

Hybrid storage systems integration

INL designs power system controls to enable integration of hydropower and power storage. Batteries, flywheels and ultracapacitors are among the methods being explored. Integration of power storage creates a “virtual reservoir” that enables the combined system to contribute to grid stability and reliability, reduce wear on hydropower components, improve ramp times, and increase overall system efficiency.

The Water Power program at INL leads the Hydro+Storage research project. This project brings together DOE national laboratories, local government utilities and industry partners to evaluate the ability of run-of-river (ROR) hydropower to provide grid balancing through integration with energy storage systems.

As a starting point, the project focused on demonstrating that energy storage can enable an ROR hydropower plant to perform like a facility with reservoir storage. In partnership with Siemens, the project team developed a centralized control scheme, the Smart Energy Box, to coordinate the operation of power storage devices and one or more hydropower plants.

Each type of storage system contributes unique capabilities to an integrated hydropower system. Digital simulations demonstrate that hybrid systems composed of batteries, ultracapacitors and flywheels can leverage the unique performance characteristics of each storage technology, leading to better performance than systems employing only one type of energy storage device.

Irrigation modernization

rPINL is leading a DOE effort to develop the “irrigation district of the future,” a concept that blends innovations from across the agriculture and energy sectors to increase the benefits derived from irrigation systems. Irrigation water conveyance systems across the western United States are undergoing modernization – a process of upgrading infrastructure and practices to meet the current and future farmer needs.

Co-development of hydropower offers significant benefits to the modernization process. Benefits can include diversifying farmers’ revenue streams, improving environmental outcomes, and enhancing rural electric reliability and resilience.

Along with partners at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, INL is developing a tool for visualizing data relevant to irrigation modernization. The tool aims to help researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders identify the mixture of conditions affecting pathways, designs and benefits of irrigation modernization across the western United States.

Pumped storage hydropower simulation

To facilitate rapid prototyping of pumped storage hydropower design, INL develops models that make it possible to test controllers and power converter hardware using unique, more representative environments. Most hydropower digital models principally account for the electrical systems (e.g., the generator, transformer, transmission system), but minimize or ignore the hydrodynamics – movement of water through a hydropower plant. However, hydrodynamics significantly impacts a plant’s capabilities. INL develops models that accurately represent both important subsystems of a hydropower plant: water and electric.

The resilient hydropower systems of the future rely on INL innovation. Through modeling, experimentation and data visualization, the INL Water Power program is finding new ways for hydropower to integrate storage technologies, optimize pumped-storage hydropower system designs, and support novel applications of hydropower in agricultural water systems. This research is enabled by unique tools and technologies developed by the hydropower program and through extensive collaboration with the INL Energy Power Systems research team.

Innovation is further supported by the myriad research tools, test beds and collaborators available at INL, other partners in the Department of Energy national laboratories, and the worldwide hydropower research community.