By Gia Schneider, CEO and co-founder at Natel Energy

Hydropower sits at the nexus of energy and water, enabling hydropower projects to be unique catalysts for positive change. If designed with both energy and water in mind, hydropower projects can increase reliable renewable generation and deliver positive co-benefits for river ecosystems and water users. Conventional approaches to hydropower did not always adequately consider the ecosystem impacts of large structures — but major shifts in the hydropower industry are underway.

What is keeping the U.S. from fully embracing a new generation of hydropower? Explained below are 5 major myths about hydropower.

Myth 1: Hydropower plants have to be massive in order to be efficient.

Many people think that only the largest projects on a massive grid are efficient enough to be worth developing.

The truth is that with modern technology solutions, it is possible to develop and operate distributed hydropower projects, networked together into virtual power plants at scale and cost-effectively. By leveraging advances in distributed energy resource management, microgrids, and batteries, virtual power plants offer increased power generation without the environmental impact. Low head, fish-safe and in-stream turbine technology has a lower environmental impact, and enables a new approach to hydropower design that is far more distributed and modular than in the past.

Rendering of a modular plant. Credit: Natel Energy

A recent NREL cost analysis of distributed, interconnected hydropower projects linked to create a virtual power plant demonstrated that the revenue reduction from the operational changes needed to achieve environmental objectives was small, at less than 4%.

Myth 2: Hydropower and river sustainability objectives are always at odds.

Large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, are often what comes to mind when thinking about river sustainability and hydropower. These traditional dams don’t emit carbon dioxide, however they do pose issues for river connectivity for both

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