Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge

This Policy Lab research team advises the U.S. Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on hydropower, North America’s largest installed source of low-carbon generating capacity. Hydropower is viewed today as both a major climate solution and serious conservation challenge. Among climate advocates, hydropower is critical to meeting domestic and international carbon reduction goals. Conservationists, in contrast, point to the damage caused by tens of thousands of North American dams to water quality, aquatic habitat, and a range of species. Meanwhile, there is accelerating interest in two related areas: first, looking to hydropower dams to “firm up” intermittent solar and wind and provide new electricity storage capacity, and second, removing obsolete dams that are harming ecosystems and impeding recreation.  There are also multiple new technologies and techniques that may help increase hydropower output and efficiency at existing dams and also enable greater compatibility of hydropower with competing resource needs like watershed management and recreation.

The research team will work closely with the clients on key issues and opportunities facing hydropower today including: developing better criteria, methodology and policy for determining which of the 80,000 powered and non-powered U.S. dams should be upgraded and which should be removed; increasing public funding and private capital – and related policy instruments and investment vehicles – for both repowering and decommissioning U.S. dams; analyzing the changing economics of U.S. hydropower and the influence of electricity markets and federal and state regulation; improving the operation of hydropower dams and “pumped storage” facilities, and related regulation, to advance the integration of U.S. wind and solar power; and reviewing state dam liability laws and their impact on decision-making about dam upgrades and decommissioning. The project seeks a diverse team of students from law, business, engineering, public policy, economics, environmental science, and earth systems, including those engaged in the Stanford Big Earth Water Hackathon.

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Clients & Deliverables


Deliverables: Oral briefings of clients and other stakeholders