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Idaho National Laboratory

Research and Development

Hydropower represents about 7-12% of the nation's electricity and is the largest renewable energy source in the United States. Hydropower provides a relatively low-cost, renewable source of electricity that can be used on a vast scale, in some cases to meet demands for peaking power, and to minimize overall power production costs.

Although hydropower does not discharge pollutants into the environment, it is not free from adverse environmental effects. Efforts to reduce environmental problems associated with hydropower operations, such as providing safe fish passage and improved water quality, have received considerable attention in the past decade both at Federal facilities and non-Federal facilities licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. View the latest Hydropower brochure (2.6 MB PDF).

Improvements in water quality in the Nation's rivers and the relicensing requirements for hundreds of non-Federal hydropower facilities provide an opportunity to reexamine operations and consider the possibility of restoring fisheries. Ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of dams and use newly available computer technologies to optimize operations provide additional opportunities to improve the environment. Yet, there are many unanswered questions about how best to maintain the economic viability of hydropower in the face of increased demands to protect fish and other environmental resources.

Many agencies and utilities actively pursue research and development (R&D) programs to improve the environmental performance of hydropower facilities. However, there is general acknowledgment that the level of available funding is likely to decline with reduced Federal budgets and increased deregulation of the electric utility industry.

A report was prepared in March 1997 as a first attempt at developing a single point source for information on current and proposed hydropower R&D, environmental as well as engineering, being conducted by government agencies, utilities, and other private companies. Entitled Hydropower Research and Development (DOE/ID-10575), this report compiles summaries of hydropower R&D activities and ascertains the level of funding directed at improved environmental protection. It is anticipated that such a compilation can help the government and the hydropower industry to develop a program to ensure that limited available resources are directed in the most beneficial ways.

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