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Hydropower: A Wave of Renewable Energy

Dam in a body of water

As climate change continues to pose a threat, curbing the use of fossil fuels has been more important than ever. The world is experiencing the largest energy transformation since the Industrial Revolution, and hydropower has been a forefront in this revolution. Hydropower is one of the first renewable energy sources to be harnessed and remains a mainstay of many power company portfolios. This clean fuel source is the leading renewable source for electricity generation globally and supplies 71 percent of all renewable electricity.

Similar to many renewable sources of energy, hydropower generation ebbs and flows with the variability of the water supply. Power generation is dictated by natural runoff either directly or released from storage. Ample rain and snow melt upstream can produce substantial electrical output. Droughts, on the other hand, can leave plants without sufficient water.

At the same time, competing demands for that water can dictate what is available for power generation. Some communities want water held back to provide a reservoir for fishing, boating and recreation, thereby reducing outflows and power generation. Others want more water released to create fast water flows for kayakers or to provide more drinking and irrigation water to communities downstream, which can increase power generation, potentially more than is needed. Knowing how much water is likely to be coming down stream or in the reservoir can help dam operators and power companies better prepare and plan for their power generation.

RTI is working to make that happen. The Water Resources Management division offers consulting services and research to hydropower operators to help them forecast and model water flows. When operators have a better sense of their inflows, they can better manage their outflows. The team also offers risk assessments and mitigation planning for extreme events, like floods, droughts, or failures.

We recently introduced this new-from-RTI service to the hydropower industry with a booth at HydroVision, the largest gathering of hydropower professionals in the world. The conference, held June 26-28 in Charlotte, NC, attracted about 3,000 hydropower industry representatives.

At the event, I presented a talk about RTI-ROSE, or Reservoir Optimization with Streamflow Ensembles. This is a new tool that uses an optimization algorithm to determine real-time inline operations of reservoir projects using probabilistic inflow forecasts through ensembles. Such a tool can help operators maximize the potential benefits from project operations using our precious and limited resource—water.

For more information on RTI’s Water Management, visit https://www.rti.org/water.