Representing the Future Role of Hydropower and Pumped Storage Hydropower (PSH) in Electricity Planning Tools

Research output: NRELPresentation


Existing tools for long-term electric sector planning struggle to represent hydropower's nuanced site-specific technical and operating characteristics, which depend on technical specifications as well as water management practices and regulations. As a result, long-term planning models and tools insufficiently characterize hydropower value and incentives, and they cannot fully represent the role hydropower can play in a future electricity system that could include a high penetration of variable wind and solar generation, battery storage, and other low-carbon technologies. This presentation demonstrates the culmination of a multi-year effort to enhance hydropower representations in electricity planning models at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), as part of the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) HydroWIRES Initiative. New modeling techniques are demonstrated using the NREL Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS), an open-access electric sector capacity expansion model used extensively in a wide range of technology deployment and integration analysis, including the 2016 USDOE Hydropower Vision. ReEDS uses a least-cost optimization approach to understand investment and operation of electricity generation, storage, and transmission technologies under future scenarios of electricity technology innovation, demand, policy, and other sectoral drivers. ReEDS was modified to better represent value and opportunities for both pumped storage hydropower (PSH) and hydropower systems without pumping. We incorporated a new national closed-loop PSH resource and cost assessment to explore new PSH deployment opportunities and added plant-level data to better represent the existing PSH fleet. New upgrade pathways enable opportunities for enhanced hydropower flexibility by adding pumps, upgrading dispatchability, increasing capacity, or increasing energy availability. The model was also modified to better represent the value of long-duration energy storage beyond diurnal time scales, allowing both hydropower and PSH to better balance energy supply and demand variations in high-renewable systems. These new features are demonstrated under reference and high-renewable futures and a range of sensitivity scenarios to understand which hydropower and PSH deployment and upgrade opportunities are the most attractive. These scenarios indicate potential for new closed-loop PSH deployment and for hydropower flexibility improvements to have important impacts on long-term electricity system emissions and economic outcomes. Increasing flexibility of the existing hydropower fleet can reduce the need to invest in new flexible grid technologies and help achieve decarbonization goals. Systems with sufficient energy storage could also be valuable for balancing seasonal differences in renewable energy availability, particularly from solar energy. The methods developed for ReEDS and subsequent scenario results reveal important considerations for future hydropower and grid system planning, and all data and code is freely available in a public code repository for use throughout the hydropower industry.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at HydroVision International, 12-14 July 2022, Denver, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A40-83227


  • capacity expansion
  • electricity
  • flexibility
  • grid
  • hydropower
  • hydrowires
  • modeling
  • PSH
  • ReEDS


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