Humans have harnessed energy from water for centuries. In the United States, hydropower was the first source of electricity forming the backbone of our electricity infrastructure, and research continues to improve its efficiency and sustainability. Today, water power technologies are still evolving, with scientists and engineers around the world researching ways to capture the energy from waves, currents, and tides to develop safe marine energy systems.
At PNNL, researchers are working to develop more efficient and sustainable systems to harness water power. In support of the DOE Water Power Technologies Office—as well as other organizations such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration—PNNL researchers aim to deliver low-cost power and resiliency to the nation’s power grids.
Specialized tools and facilities
With a decades-long background in environmental research, PNNL not only studies aquatic species and habitats, but also the application of that knowledge in improving environmental performance of water power technologies and how environmental impacts are measured and mitigated. PNNL’s hydrologic, mechanical, electrical, software, and material science engineers work hand in hand with industry to design new multi-disciplinary tools grounded in biology, such as EyeSea and Sensor Fish.
Scientists design, test, build and validate their hypotheses at PNNL’s Aquatics Research Laboratory, Bio-acoustics and Flow Laboratory, and Applied Process and Engineering Laboratory. They also draw upon the resources of DOE’s only Marine Sciences Laboratory, where they have direct access to ocean environments, multiple testing and manufacturing apparatuses, and facilities that can accommodate a wide array of marine species.
More recently, PNNL has applied its deep knowledge in power systems and electricity markets to water power in the areas of valuation, markets, and grid integration.
PNNL water power research ranges from fish-friendly hydropower turbines and award-winning fish tags that assure safe fish passage through hydroelectric dams, to wave energy characterization work and advanced sensor technologies to improve marine energy systems. PNNL is committed to supporting the widespread and environmentally sound deployment of water power projects around the world.