Americans are rightly concerned about climate change. They want infrastructure that is resilient and adapted to predicted extreme weather events. They also need green, clean, renewable energy that is reliable. New hydropower and marine energy technologies can help with climate change mitigation and adaptation.
How can the water industry help address climate change?
Our industry is having important conversations on new developments and how to use new hydropower technologies to help handle a changing climate. Last month, I attended my second National Hydropower Association (NHA) Clean Currents Conference in Sacramento. The conference included two plenary sessions:
- Opportunities created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)
- Hydropower’s role in the clean energy grid
I also attended engaging sessions on multiple hydropower and marine energy topics, including adding hydropower to existing non-powered dams, hydrogen power, improving seasonal water resource management, ocean wave power generation, and a watershed conservation program model.
Two weeks later, I attended the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Small Business Conference in Nashville, where I had the opportunity to talk to multiple vendors about the latest developments in water management, water treatment, and flood risk reduction/resilience. Of particular interest were consultants who focused on flood risk reduction, particularly climate change adaptation.
While there are many other means to produce clean, renewable energy, including solar, wind, marine kinetic, biomass, biofuels, and nuclear power generation, there are limitations to these power sources, including weather variability and waste disposal. Hydropower is proven and reliable. Because it can quickly go from zero power to maximum output, it provides essential backup, especially for variable wind and solar generation, and peaking power for high-load periods.
New developments and technologies in waterpower
New technologies are making waterpower even more valuable. One of these involves using the power of ocean waves to produce electricity. Currently, prototype systems such as CalWave Power Technologies CalWave x1TM are being used successfully in the United States. Another technology involves better water inflow forecasting through theory-guided machine learning. This technology would help utilities schedule hydropower generation for maximum energy output. This same technology could help better manage reservoir operations in a flood fight, thereby contributing to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Additional technologies include using advanced robots for dam inspections and artificial intelligence (AI) and multi-layered data collection for monitoring to better manage dam operations and maintenance (O&M).
The opportunities created by the IIJA and the IRA and maturing technologies provide a terrific opportunity to 1) mitigate climate change by increasing the percentage of our energy produced by renewable resources and 2) adapt our infrastructure to withstand the predicted effects of climate change. Increased hydropower and ocean-wave energy, better inflow forecasting, and AI-enhanced dam O&M are all part of the solution. It is an exciting time to be a water resource engineer.