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US DOE seeks input on using hydropower for grid resiliency

The U.S. Department of Energy is seeking information on how to increase the use of hydropower, including pumped storage, to enhance power grid resiliency and reliability.

In a Federal Register notice, slated to be published Feb. 27, and a request for information, or RFI, posted online Feb. 21, the Water Power Technologies Office, or WPTO, within DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy asked for information on how the hydropower fleet can expand its contribution to the grid in the future.

In its Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill, Congress directed the WPTO to produce a techno-economic analysis of the value provided by pumped hydropower storage by examining two locations near high levels of intermittent renewable energy generation. But the DOE is interested in going beyond that.

The WPTO is planning on developing a long-term strategy for research that can be done to "lower system costs, bring insight to hydropower technology development and research investments, promote optimization of hydroelectric resources, and ultimately support a more secure and reliable electric power system," the notice said.

The agency asked for input on five broad topics by April 6, specifically asking for feedback from utilities, state and federal regulators, grid operators, environmental and recreational nonprofits, research laboratories, industry associations, and hydropower owners and operators.

The first topic centers on the congressional directive, such as how the WPTO should define "high levels" of intermitted renewable generation and "proximity."

The second topic examines hydropower capabilities and the costs of operating the technology "in a changing grid," including operations and maintenance and opportunity costs. The WPTO asked for examples of hydropower projects adapting to new market designs, extreme events or grid demands for faster resources. "For example, are units operating at broader ranges, increasing starts and stops, experiencing faster ramps, or [otherwise altering] dispatch patterns to accommodate or take advantage of new system conditions or needs," the RFI asked. For its part, the WPTO asked if potential technology innovations could improve hydropower's capabilities.

In a similar vein, the third issue WPTO wants to examine is the operational practices of run-of-river and pumped-storage hydropower units, including if more data or knowledge is needed on how those units contribute to resiliency and reliability.

For the fourth topic, the WPTO is seeking comment on what role hydropower will play in the future and how much value it can provide. "Continued evolution of market products, regulatory climate, and resource composition may offer new opportunities and challenges for hydropower," the RFI said. "It is unclear how near-term and long-term system scenarios make hydropower more or less valuable."

Finally, the WPTO asked if it should examine other issues, such as key partnerships, novel large infrastructure financing mechanisms, lessons from international development and complementary investment in bulk energy storage research.

DOE under the Trump administration has put an increasing focus on grid resiliency, including by proposing a rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which FERC rejected, aimed at rescuing financially ailing coal-fired and nuclear generators. DOE is also looking at building a resiliency modeling tool.