Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012 — The Energy Department released a renewable energy resource assessment detailing the potential to develop electric power generation at existing dams across the U.S. that aren't currently equipped to produce power.
The report estimates that without building a single new dam, these available hydropower resources, if fully developed, could provide an electrical generating capacity of more than 12 GW, equivalent to roughly 15 percent of current U.S. hydropower capacity.
These findings demonstrate one of the ways the nation can diversify its energy portfolio while achieving the Obama administration's goal of generating 80 percent of our nation's electricity from clean resources by 2035.
The report, titled "An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States," analyzes more than 54,000 specific sites that could be developed to generate power. The results indicate that, if fully developed, the nation's non-powered dams could provide enough energy to power over four million households.
The greatest hydropower resource potential was found at lock and dam facilities on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas Rivers — facilities owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The top ten sites alone have the potential to provide about 3 GW of generating capacity, while the top 100 sites together could potentially provide 8 GW of clean, reliable energy. Many of these dams could also likely be converted to power-generating facilities with minimal impact to critical species, habitats, parks or wilderness areas.
The resource assessment also finds many potential hydropower sites are located in areas of the country with fewer wind or solar resources, giving nearby communities another way to secure renewable energy for local families and businesses.
And because hydropower provides reliable baseload power day and night, developing existing dams could also provide flexibility and diversity to the electric grid and allow utilities to integrate other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
This report, funded by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, will be a valuable tool for state and local officials, as well as industry stakeholders. It was produced by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in partnership with Idaho National Laboratory.