Advanced Hydropower and PSH Capacity Expansion Modeling: Final Report on HydroWIRES D1 Improvements to Capacity Expansion Modeling

Stuart Cohen, Matthew Mowers

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) have played a key role in providing flexible, low-carbon electricity to the U.S. electricity system for over a century. As variable generation (VG) deployment increases the demand for flexible, dispatchable generation, it is important to use all available methods for understanding how hydropower and PSH interfaces with VG in a future low-carbon grid. Capacity expansion models (CEMs) of electricity systems are often used to study future electricity scenarios, but these tools often have difficulty representing site- and technology-details of hydropower and PSH due to limited spatial, temporal, or process resolution. This report demonstrates a set of model advancements to improve hydropower and PSH representations in CEMs and other models that consider hydropower and PSH's role in electricity systems. Model advancements include new data integration to define closed-loop PSH resource availability and cost, along with site-level parameterizations of existing PSH capacity and energy storage specifications. Shifting energy across seasons for both hydropower and PSH is explored to demonstrate the potential value of long-duration storage. New representations of hydropower upgrades offer opportunities to increase dispatchability, add pumps, or independently add capacity or energy depending on what is most valuable. New model structures and data are demonstrated individually and in combination to observe their impact on model results and provide initial insights into what is most important for analysts, electricity system planners, and hydropower decision-makers to consider when assessing future roles of hydropower. Improving flexibility of existing hydropower assets has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions through complementing VG technologies and/or improve electricity system economics by reducing the need to deploy higher-cost systems. Large-scale energy storage is also shown to provide opportunities for balancing seasonal differences in VG, particularly solar photovoltaics (PV). Initial analysis with a new closed-loop PSH resource and cost dataset also demonstrate the potential for new PSH deployment to offer new grid flexibility opportunities. Future analysis and modeling of hydropower's role in the U.S. and other electricity systems could include methodological improvements based on those discussed here along with sensitivity analysis to better represent current and future potential hydropower and PSH flexibility. Improvements to geospatial and site-level data can further improve the understanding of how hydropower and PSH can be upgraded and operated in response to future electricity system needs. This work lays the groundwork to use advanced planning models to explore the range of roles hydropower and PSH can play in the grid of the future.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages94
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A40-80714


  • electricity
  • flexibility
  • grid
  • hydro
  • PSH
  • pumped hydro
  • pumped storage
  • ReEDS
  • storage


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