department of energy ; image: a dam

The smallest ever tracking device for fish, as well as new protections in hydroelectric dams, are two innovations featured in the DOE WPTO’s 2020 Accomplishments Report

The Department of Energy’s Water Power Technology Office (WPTO) has been tasked with making hydroelectric dams more environmentally friendly. The shift to water power is crucial as humans move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power.


The Three Gorges Dam in China produced 96.9 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of power in 2019, and 79.4 billion kWh of energy was produced by the Itaipu Dam in Brazil that same year. These dams top the global list for largest output of hydroelectricity. In comparison, the total US energy production via water-based technology was 288 billion kWh in 2019.  So, the 2,400 dams that produce power in the United States produced just 111.7 billion kWh more than the 2 most productive dams on the planet.

These two giant hydroelectric dams were not constructed without controversy, however. The Itaipu Dam, built in 1984, sacrificed what once was the world’s largest waterfall by volume, the Guaira Falls, during construction. The Three Gorges Dam, among other things, severely damaged the Yangtze sturgeon’s population and habitat. The Yangtze sturgeon is a small fish that has only staved off extinction through human intervention. So, as the United States started to get its feet wet in expanding hydroelectric power output, protecting the wildlife and environment became a large concern.

At the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), protecting fish from the impact of hydroelectric dams is their mission.

2020 Accomplishment Report

Two of the advancements highlighted in the WPTO 2019-2020 Accomplishments Report were of new technology that will help protect and study fish. The WPTO offered a ‘Fish Exclusion Prize’ of $700,000 to the scientists who could develop the most innovative improvements to fish exclusion systems in hydroelectric dams. The importance of allowing fish safe passage through a dam’s structure can be found here. Benjamin Mater of Alden Research Laboratory won first prize for inventing a newly shaped bar for fish exclusion screens.

The other highlighted accomplishment involved the development of a miniature “Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System” (a tracking device for salmon). The smaller device, made possible with a new micro-battery, can be used for studying smaller species of aquatic life. The new technology has a “relatively” long range and allows for 3D positioning imaging and tracking. A 38-day trial study was conducted in 2020 to test the new tags, and the result was favorable. There were “minimal” lost tags, zero of the specimens studied died during the test, and there was “no significant change in swimming ability.”

The smaller device will hopefully facilitate in research about both the American eel in the St. Lawrence River and lampreys in the Columbia River Basin. The American eel population has decreased by over 50% due to dams that block their migratory routes. The lamprey population, which holds value as a resource for Native Americans, has been declining steadily over the last 40 years. Lampreys in the Great Lakes, however, are considered invasive.


Until Next Time,

Benefits Ben, STWS

**Written by Benjamin Derge, Financial Planner. The information has been obtained from sources considered reliable but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Benjamin Derge and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize, or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors.

department of energy ; image: a dam

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