Hydropower: A Critical Part of the Energy Transition

By Kris Polly

As we move further into the 21st century, it is becoming clearer and clearer that hydropower will play a central role in the transition to a more renewable, carbon-free grid. And that means that large-scale projects to rehabilitate hydro fleets and advance new hydro and pumped storage projects will become more common and more important. 

Southern Company is one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States with 42,000 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, and with approximately 2,800 MW generated by hydropower, it is one of the top hydropower producers in the nation. Over the next 10–15 years, Southern Company will be carrying out a complete overhaul of its 29 hydropower facilities. In our cover interview, we speak with Herbie Johnson, Southern Company’s hydro general manager, about the progress of this important initiative. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a pumped storage guidebook intended to help potential developers of pumped storage facilities evaluate the services those facilities would provide and thus help advance those projects. We hear from professionals from two of the five labs that helped develop this guidebook—Vladimir Koritarov of Argonne National Laboratory and Dominique Bain and Greg Stark of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory—about the importance of this project. The DOE also cooperated with several developers on case studies to test whether the evaluation guidebook was providing trustworthy information. We speak with Ushakar Jha and Erik Steimle of Rye Development, which took part in one of the case studies, about their experience. 

We also feature two companies who provide specialized services to hydropower clients. Benton Strong and Brian Akin of Vigor Industrial tell us about their company’s specialized steel fabrication services, which include building miter gates, tainter gates, valves, and fish screens for dams. Then, Bob Shortridge of Lignum Vitae North America tells us about how he discovered lignum vitae, the hard, resinous wood that creates some of the world’s best bearings, and how he built up his company, which creates water-lubricated bearings for hydro applications around the world. 

GE Renewable Energy’s Denver-area office recently decided to launch a course on renewable energy and the transition to noncarbon generation for a local high school. Matt Pevarnik, the senior sales leader for GE Hydro at GE Renewable Energy, tells us about the genesis of the idea and how the class went. 

As even many high schoolers today know, hydropower and pumped storage promise to be key elements of our future power supply. The professionals we feature in this month’s Hydro Leader are helping to make that into a concrete reality. 

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Hydro Leader magazine and the president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at kris.polly@waterstrategies.com.