The Energy Department on April 30 announced up to $13 million in funding to develop and test advanced components and technologies to boost the performance
of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy systems. The Energy Department plans to select up to 10 awards aimed at developing advanced controls, power systems, and device structures specifically for MHK applications, which harness energy from waves, tides, or
Through the new funding opportunity, the Energy Department intends to support projects that increase the power-to-weight ratio of MHK devices or improve
system reliability through investment in three component technologies. The Department will select up to six projects to develop advanced control systems, including software or hardware, and perform numerical modeling or testing to assess performance improvements;
up to two awards will be selected that focus on developing lighter, more compact, and more efficient power take-offs (PTOs) to increase system and component reliability and modularity and to make PTOs longer-lasting and easier to repair; and up to two projects
will develop and test an advanced device structure that minimizes the loads transmitted to other components and increases the device’s ability to withstand extreme conditions. See the
funding opportunity announcement at the Water Power Program Financial Opportunities Webpage.
The Energy Department also launched a new Energy 101 video on a range of innovative MHK technologies and the Department’s research and development efforts
to improve performance and lower costs. Additional information on these efforts is available through Open Energy Information’s new Water Power Gateway. See the
Progress Alert and the
Water Power Gateway.
Researchers from the Energy Department's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a low-cost, long-life “flow” battery
that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid. The research is a product of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), an Energy Department Energy Innovation Hub. Established last November and led by
Argonne National Laboratory with SLAC as a major partner, JCESR is one of five such Hubs created by the Energy Department to accelerate energy research.
While solar and wind power make a substantial contribution to the nation’s energy supply, they also create significant power fluctuations, which can sometimes
exceed the tolerances of the electrical grid. “Flow” batteries can smooth those fluctuations. Typically, flow batteries pump two different liquids through an interaction chamber where dissolved molecules undergo chemical reactions that store or give up energy,
and have a membrane that only allows ions not involved in reactions to pass between the liquids while keeping the active ions physically separated. The new flow battery uses a simplified design without a membrane, and is a less expensive design compared to
other batteries, which may improve its scalability and cost-effectiveness. In laboratory tests, it also demonstrated excellent energy storage performance through the equivalent of more than five and a half years of daily charge and discharge cycles. See the
Energy Department press release and the
The Energy Department on April 22 announced a new study outlining key improvements that can be made to hydropower production in the United States to provide
more efficient and cost-effective electricity to homes and businesses. Developed with funding from the Energy Department, the Electric Power Research Institute's (EPRI) report, "Quantifying the Value of Hydropower in the Electric Grid," identifies and assesses
the quantifiable benefits from potential improvements. The report cites potential upgrades such as installing turbines that can operate with lower water levels, utilizing new power plant designs that can increase revenue and efficiency, and monetizing the
services hydropower provides to the nation's electric grid.
Hydropower supplies about 7% of U.S. electricity generation and is currently the nation's largest source of renewable electricity. Hydropower is widely valued
for the ancillary services, or flexibility, it provides to the power grid—allowing storage capabilities, enabling fast stops and starts, and responding rapidly to imbalances of supply and demand to maintain power system stability. For example, pumped storage
hydropower plants can pump water uphill when electricity supply exceeds demand, such as during nighttime hours or times when renewable energy sources are generating more power than consumers are using. This ability to store energy until it is needed—and to
absorb excess renewable energy generation—lowers electricity prices and enables the generation of more renewable electricity.
The researchers looked at improvements that could boost the efficiency and output of hydropower plants and at pumped storage hydropower systems, particularly
in their potential to be integrated with variable renewable sources such as wind and solar power. According to the report, hydropower plants could see their largest revenue and efficiency increases by deploying new hydropower technologies, making operational
improvements, utilizing hydropower's flexibility more in grid resource planning, and monetizing the energy storage capability of pumped storage. Among the key findings from the report: relying more heavily on hydropower to address changes in electricity supply
and demand could provide more flexible reserve power options and reduce wear and tear on conventional thermal-generating equipment; and expanding the effective operating range of hydropower units by reducing the minimum amount of water needed to use the turbines
stably can increase the production value of plants by 60%. EPRI also published nine accompanying case studies and supplemental reports that discuss the elements covered in the final report in greater detail. See the Energy Department
Progress Alert and the
complete report .
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced on April 11 that it has launched a publicly available, comprehensive online view of the U.S. government's
national and state energy data and information. The agency designed the new online portal with a range of users in mind, including policy makers, energy analysts, and the general public, who want to locate and compare state energy data and rankings and customize
their own maps and charts, using an assortment of interactive tools.
Users can view an array of energy facilities and resources, including information about renewable resource potential for wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal
energy. In addition to customizable maps, the portal summarizes each state's ranking of its energy production, consumption, prices, and more. The state energy portal adds a unique visual dimension to each state's energy resources and infrastructure. See the
EIA press release and the
state energy profile website.
The race to transition to cleaner, greener natural gas power plants is getting a boost from an unlikely source—solar energy. A new system developed by the
Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel called syngas, which will allow hybrid solar-gas power plants to use about 20% less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity
while also lowering the plant's greenhouse gas emissions.
The system works through concentrating solar power, which uses a reflecting surface to concentrate the sun's rays like a magnifying glass. In the case of
the new system from PNNL, a mirrored parabolic dish directs sunbeams to a central point, where a device absorbs the solar heat to make syngas.
The four-foot-long, two-foot-wide device contains a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. The concentrated sunlight heats up the natural gas flowing
through the reactor's channels, where a catalyst helps turn the natural gas into syngas. The heat exchangers recycle leftover heat from the chemical reaction gas, increasing the efficiency of the system. In fact, tests on an early prototype of the device demonstrated
that more than 60% of the sunlight hitting the parabolic dish was converted into chemical energy contained in the syngas. For the complete story, see the