Low-head hydropower as a reserve power source: A case study of Northeastern Illinois

Trevor L. Auth, Grace E. Wackerman, Marcelo H. Garcia, Ashlynn S. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wind power generation faces intermittency challenges, typically requiring reserve power sources to maintain reliability of the electricity grid. This study proposes that hydropower turbines installed at low-head dams can provide reserve power generation to support wind power, avoiding the externalities associated with fossil-fuel plants and conventional hydropower. Low-head dams in the United States are used for flood control, securing municipal water supplies, and providing reservoir pools for recreation. As a case study, we estimated hydropower potential at 12 low-head dams along a 150-km reach of the Fox River (Northeastern Illinois, USA) using a calibrated river flow model. We analyzed the model's output to assess power generation capacity and reliability as a source of baseload power and as a component in a coupled wind-hydropower system. The modeled system performed reliably over a five-year time period despite significant long-term fluctuations in streamflow, offsetting the short-term variability of wind power. However, combining the low-head hydropower system with wind power limited the output of the system to the minimum generated by the low-head hydropower. The low-head hydropower system's small capacity and high break-even price suggest that it is better suited for local applications rather than grid-scale operations, especially if permitting regulations are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)980-989
Number of pages10
JournalRenewable Energy
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Energy system analysis
  • Low-head hydropower
  • Renewable energy
  • Water resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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