Developing Hydropower Tools and Technologies


Innovative tools and technologies are vital to research and discovery. The INL Water Power program develops these tools and technologies to support hydropower advancements, which are also enabled by the exceptional shared research infrastructure available at INL.


INL has advanced modeling tools for simulating grid conditions in real time. These tools make it possible to test how physical hardware or control actions will act in real-world scenarios. For instance, the test bed allows researchers to analyze how a microgrid will respond if a generator trips offline. It also makes it possible to analyze future grid conditions, such as the effects of electric vehicles on grid stability. INL hardware that is connected to the test bed includes a full microgrid, batteries and ultracapacitors, electric vehicles, the ability to develop highly accurate models of other grid components, and connectivity to test beds at other national laboratories.


One of the most exciting technologies for hydropower research today is hardware-in-the-loop testing. Any new component for a hydropower plant needs to be thoroughly tested before it is added to an existing power grid, but field tests are an incredibly expensive and disruptive endeavor. When a small, fixable problem causes a device to fail these tests, huge costs and delays often result. Hardware-in-the-loop lets engineers and researchers identify and correct problems before they get to the field-testing stage.

Hardware-in-the-loop testing for power systems integrates physical devices with computer simulations of power grids under variable conditions. By combining the physical and the virtual and utilizing the INL power systems test bed, researches can test a physical device against many more conditions than would occur during a standard field test at a fraction of the cost. Hardware-in-the-loop testing makes new devices safer by identifying flaws that limited field testing might never detect and saves money and time by ensuring that more devices are ready and likely to shine by the time they get to the field testing stage.

INL is using hardware-in-the-loop technology in partnership with Idaho Falls Power to test the integration of an ultracapacitor into the Idaho Falls run-of-river hydropower system. Just like a car with a bad battery, if the hydropower plant stops, it needs to be jump-started. The ultracapacitor will store electric charge and provide the short burst of power needed to restart the hydropower plant should an emergency shutdown occur. Currently, hydropower systems rely on power from elsewhere in the grid to restart after a shutdown. Introducing the capability for these systems to restart themselves is a game changer for system resilience and United States energy security.


Irrigation modernization is a collaborative, systematic process for identifying and adopting the agricultural, environmental, economic, social and power benefits that can be generated through the installation of irrigation district and on-farm technologies that reduce water loss, make in-conduit hydropower possible, and minimize power use while maximizing habitat restoration potential.

INL partnered with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to develop a tool for visualizing irrigation modernization pathways and alternatives. The tool aims to help researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders identify the conditions affecting pathways, designs and benefits of irrigation modernization across the western United States.

IrrigationViz Tool


INL infrastructure is ideally suited for testing numerous aspects of modern power systems. Capabilities include digital real-time simulation, energy storage laboratories, a microgrid test bed, and a full-scale grid and supervisory, control and data acquisition test bed. These resources support our unique and exceptional capacity for hydropower innovation and discovery at INL.

Idaho National Laboratory