“Studies conducted by the University of Washington, Virginia Tech and the Electric Power Research Institute estimate approximately 400 terawatt-hours per year can be extracted from marine and hydrokinetic technologies in this country, excluding ocean thermal systems. This is enough electricity to power cleanly approximately 36 million average American homes.” – Jacques Beaudry-Losique, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US Dept of Energy [i]
In one of the first hearings directly related to hydro power potential, Jacques Beaudry-Losique shed light on the enormous potential on the horizon for hydro power in the United States. Hydro power is generally thought of as a current-based technology. Such tech relies on the flow of water current to generate electricity. This is just one of several forms, including wave motion, hydro-thermic and magnetohydrodynamic energy generation. Current-based technologies can be divided into three categories: axial flow turbines, cross flow turbines, and reciprocating devices.
As one would expect, development costs may be high initially. Government subsidies, however, in energy and green sustainability programs will alleviate and offset these initial cost barriers. An example of this is the Marine Renewable Energy Research and Development Act of 2007. This act directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to “support RD&D and commercial application programs for MHK renewable energy technologies…and authorized DOE to provide grants to higher education institutions for the establishment of national centers for marine renewable energy research, development, and demonstration.”[ii]
Just how much did the U.S. government authorize in this area? The answer – $50,000,000 appropriated from 20008-2012.
Now, even venture capitalists and private equity firms are seeing the prospects of what is possible with hydro power systems. Sensing that solar and wind are already costly and “old news”, investment interest in hydro ventures is up 1000+% in recent years.
According to House testimony by Roger Bedard, Ocean Energy Leader for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit collaborative R&D organization, the overall sustainable benefits of hydro power include:
- Provision of a new, environmentally friendly, renewable energy source
- Easy assimilation into the grid (because of the predictability of the resource)
- Ease of transmission constraints with minimal, if any, aesthetic concerns
- Reduced dependence on imported energy supplies
- Reduced risk of future fossil fuel price volatility
- Reduced emissions of greenhouse gases
- Stimulated local job creation and economic development
The move toward hydro power in the U.S. is clear. The cost-effectiveness of power generation when compared to all other forms is also clear:
[ii] Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Committee on Science and Technology – U.S. House of Representatives, December 3, 2009, pg. 7.
[iii] Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Committee on Science and Technology – U.S. House of Representatives, December 3, 2009, pg. 25.