Volume 4 Issue 8 September

Hydro for the Future

By Kris Polly

Hydropower is sometimes thought of as an energy source of the past: a “forgotten giant,” as one of this month’s interviewees puts it. But as the penetration of wind and solar generation increases, more energy storage and more firm and dispatchable carbon-free energy will be needed, things that hydropower is well suited to provide. This month’s stories cover large pumped storage hydro projects as well as nimble modular and ocean-based power systems—all of which will help make up the future of hydro.

For this month’s cover story, we sit down with National Hydropower Association Board Chair Mike Haynes, who is also the interim general manager of Seattle City Light, to talk about his work at the association and about its upcoming Clean Currents conference, which will take place October 10–13 in Cincinnati.

Next, we speak with Steve Jacoby, the hydropower manager at the Oklahoma-based Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA). GRDA owns one of the nation’s oldest pumped storage projects, but changing market conditions have affected its profitability. Now, the authority is undertaking studies and a demonstration project to figure out how best to modernize the facility.

GenH is a company that has its sights set high: It aims to power every nonpowered dam in the world. Its strategy is to mass-manufacture small adaptive hydro units that can be
placed at dams with no construction and can easily be moved if hydrologic conditions demand it. Taking this approach, Cofounder Siddharth Pannir tells us, will allow hydro to compete with fossil generation without the need for subsidies.

Then, we speak with Roger Whitby, the chief operating officer of Australian company Snowy Hydro. With solar and wind on the rise, Australia needs lots of energy storage, and the company is responding by building the nation’s biggest pumped storage facility, the Snowy 2.0 project.

After that, we interview Anton-Louis Olivier, a board member and vice president of the International Hydropower Association, about the organization’s work and activities, which are structured around four focus areas: incentivizing investment in hydropower, increasing the value and lifespans of the global operating hydropower fleet, expanding awareness of the role of hydropower in water management, and promoting sustainable practices.

Last, we talk with two experts based at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Michael Lawson, the group manager of NREL’s water power research and development (R&D) group, tells us about the prospects for commercializing ocean energy systems. Greg Stark, NREL’s hydropower technical lead, tells us about his work modeling the role of hydropower in an increasingly high-renewable grid.

From massive projects like Snowy 2.0 to GenH’s dream of an adaptive hydro unit at every nonpowered dam in the world, the future of hydropower is exciting. This month’s stories clearly demonstrate that hydropower will play a key role in the energy mix of future years.

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.