Kevin Kircher: Graduating Researcher of the Hydro Research Foundation

Kevin Kircher

Editor's Note: This is the most recent in a series of profiles provided by the Hydro Research Foundation that highlight potential future members of the hydroelectric power industry and their accomplishments.

The Hydro Research Foundation is actively supporting graduate students to conduct research related to conventional and pumped storage hydropower. These students are funded through the Department of Energy’s Water Power Program and industry partners through a three-year grant.


Kevin Kircher is a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. He is interested in control and estimation problems related to the reliable integration of stochastic renewables into power systems. In past work, he developed energy efficiency strategies for complex building types. He has also contributed to water and energy projects in Honduras and Nicaragua through Engineers for a Sustainable World.

Kircher is completing his research in January with the support of Dr. Max Zhang and has been working with Erin Foraker at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Jay Mearns with Pacific Gas & Electric. The title of his research is Coupling Hydropower, PV and Flexible Loads in a Carbon Free Microgrid.

Per his research, the State of Hawaii currently imports 85% of its food and relies on fossil fuels for 95% of its energy. Most of these fuels are imported, making Hawaiian electricity costs (about $0.42/kWh) the most expensive in the nation. These facts, coupled with the state’s excellent water and solar resources, make sustainable energy and agriculture projects in Hawaii extremely attractive.

The state's regulatory environment, however, often makes grid-connected renewable projects politically infeasible: the utilities place hard caps on the amount of distributed generation capacity allowable in their networks. Many communities have already reached these caps. Additionally, much arable land is located far from existing electrical distribution infrastructure, making the cost of interconnection significant. Since agricultural activities such as irrigation, refrigeration and processing are often energy-intensive, the lack of affordable access to electricity is a challenge.

In this work, the research team will extend the initial site assessment to design a microgrid including a lower reservoir and a pumped-storage system, a PV array, and direct control of flexible electric loads. This design will include control algorithms to optimally balance seasonal variations in water flow rates; seasonal, diurnal and real-time fluctuations in PV output; and the time-varying costs and constraints of a diverse portfolio of flexible loads. Estimation and prediction algorithms will be required in order to anticipate changes in resource availability and in electricity demand. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Hawaiian partners, who have taken steps toward implementing such a system.

The hope is that the development of this microgrid will highlight the potential of small-scale hydropower and pumped storage to ‘firm up’ the less reliable (but more scalable) renewables.

Kevin is actively seeking work in the hydropower industry. To connect with Kevin or learn more about the Research Awards Program please email or visit the website

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