Future of hydropower in New York

While other forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, have greater potential for future expansion, hydro is expected to hold its own or grow slightly as a mainstay of renewable power generation in New York.

Upgrades of existing plants and adoption of high-efficiency small hydro technologies are enabling important incremental increases in the state’s hydroelectric generating capacity. In future years New York could see a significant increase in hydropower from coastline installations if wave conversion or tidal in-stream power technologies prove technically and economically feasible.

Repowering existing generation facilities

  • Installation of high-efficiency turbines, improvements to power station infrastructure and other upgrades can significantly increase the electricity output of older hydroelectric plants. A recent study of renewable energy in New York found upgrading existing hydropower plants to be one of the least expensive ways to increase renewable electricity generation.
  • With support from the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, upgrades to 25 existing hydropower generation stations have been completed or are underway in New York. Renewable Portfolio Standard funding is available for existing plant upgrades and for new low-impact run-of-river facilities up to 30 MW of capacity with no new storage impoundments.

Retrofitting non-power dams

  • Adding generation equipment to existing dams that are now without hydropower is another possibility for increasing New York’s total generation capacity with minimal environmental impact. Many existing flood control or water management dams would require only a modest investment in generation equipment to become small hydro generators.
  • According to the US Department of Energy, hydropower from non-power dams often is found to complement other renewable sources and could help to diversify the distribution of hydropower across the state. The US Department of Energy has estimated that New York could develop as much as 295 MW of generating capacity at existing non-power dams.

Distributed hydroelectric generation

  • Small or low-head hydropower generation could play a role in making New York’s power grid more resilient to climate change. When deployed with energy storage and smart grid technologies, locally-sized hydro systems can help utilities reduce or manage demand for grid-based electricity, introduce redundancy to back up the system and might be designed to keep power flowing to local users in the event of wider power interruptions. Smart grid technology is needed to facilitate use of small hydro and other renewable resources whose energy output varies with weather conditions or season.

Ocean-Based Hydropower

  • It is estimated that converting less than one-tenth of one percent of the renewable energy within the oceans into electricity could satisfy today’s world demand more than five times over
  • With more than 120 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, New York could benefit significantly from any technology that generated electricity from any or all forms of seawater energy — potential, kinetic, thermal or chemical. At this time, two technologies, wave energy conversion and tidal in-stream energy conversion, appear to offer the greatest potential for application in New York.


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