Untapped Hydro Resources

Untapped Hydro Resources

Untapped Hydro Potential

Hydro power once averaged over 20% of U.S. electric power sector net generation in 1970. Over the past decade (2004–2013), hydro power provided an average of 6.8% of U.S. electric power sector net generation. Untapped non-power dam (NPD) resources  will transform small hydro into a major energy source.

The U.S. Administration’s goal is to generate 80% of the nation’s electricity to clean energy sources by 2035 and lead the world in clean energy innovation.

The hydro power resource assessment by the Department of Energy’s Hydropower Program has identified 5,677 sites in the United States with acceptable undeveloped hydro power potential. These sites have a modeled undeveloped capacity of about 30,000 MW. This represents about 40 percent of the existing conventional hydro power capacity.

The 80,000+ non-powered facilities represent the vast majority of dams in the country; more than 90% of dams are used for services, such as regulating water supply and controlling inland navigation, and lack electricity-generating equipment.

non powered dams

An assessment of energy potential from new stream-reach development in the United States led by DOE’s ORNL provides a national picture of the remaining new hydropower development opportunities in U.S. rivers and streams. The assessment concluded that the technical resource potential is 85 GW of capacity. When federally protected lands—national parks, national wild and scenic rivers, and wilderness areas—are excluded, the remaining potential is over 60 GW of capacity or 347 TWh/year of generation.

Power stations can likely be added to many of these dams at a lower cost than creating new powered dam structures. Together, these non-power dam (NPD) facilities could power millions of households and avoid millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
undeveloped hydroelectric power

Only 3 percent of the nation’s 80,000 dams currently generate electricity, and as we move to a clean energy economy, it is vital that we tap these unused resources.

That is translated to 2,400 of the nation’s 80,000 existing power dams, which are used to generate power. Installing turbines in existing dams presents a promising and cost-effective power source.

non-power dam potential

Hydro power is the nation’s largest source of renewable electricity.

An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-powered Dams in the United States, compiled by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), assesses the ability of existing non-powered dams across the country to generate electricity. The study found that the nation has over 50,000 suitable non-powered dams with the technical potential to add about 12 gigawatts (GW) of clean, renewable hydro power capacity. The 100 largest capacity facilities—primarily locks and dams on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas rivers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—could provide 8 GW of power combined.

Among the top 100 candidates for hydro power development at identified NPDs, 81 are USACE projects. Here are the top 25:

Top non-powered dams potential

U.S. hydropower could grow from 101 gigawatts (GW) of combined generating and storage capacity in 2015 to nearly 150 GW by 2050, with more than 50% of this growth by 2030.
Hydro Power US

Hydro power share of U.S. generation has been on a steady decline. What is required is an innovation breakthrough.

Canadian Hydro Power

There is 163,173 megawatts of undeveloped hydro potential in Canada.

Approximately two-thirds of the economically feasible potential remains to be developed. Untapped hydro resources are still abundant in Latin America, Central Africa, India and China.

Power Expenses HUG


 The uprating of existing hydroelectric generator and turbine units at power plants is one of the most immediate, cost-effective, and environmentally acceptable means of developing additional electric power. Since 1978, Reclamation has pursued an aggressive uprating program which has added more than 1,600,000 kW to Reclamation’s capacity at an average cost of $69 per kilowatt. This compares to an average cost for providing new peaking capacity through oil-fired generators of more than $400 per kilowatt.

Current costs are too high

  • Current costs for new turbine suppliers is exorbitantly expensive, rendering a profitable endeavor at most small and micro hydro sites unfeasible. Turbine suppliers and engineers provide standardized runners that will operate within a wide window of head ranges, but providing unacceptable efficiency at the upper and lower edge of the ranges; or will charge excessive engineering fees when requested to provide the site specific turbine geometry that is required to economically produce power.  HUG $0.045/kWh              Compare:  
    •  Mahoning Creek Dam: $.24/kWh                                   
    • Smithland Dam:                $.63/kWh                      
    • Maynard Dam:                   $.81/kWh

Current methods are outdated and inefficient

Small and micro hydro turbines available on the market today are designed and fabricated using methods and materials developed in the 1930’s. These existing designs are expensive and overbuilt, and typically limited to sites with much higher heads. Accordingly, small hydro units are either not optimized for the specific location, or require significant engineering cost that make the value proposition unattractive in most cases.

HUG power velocity vortex

How HUG can Rescue America’s Dumb Dams:

More than half of U.S. dams are no more than 25 feet tall, through a channel that’s wide or narrow, into a pool that’s deep or shallow. It’s hard to find an inexpensive, plug-and-play solution.


HUG Helical Turbines
HUG Helical Turbines

Electrifying Unpowered Dams


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