Amy Shaw: Graduating Researcher of the Hydro Research Foundation

Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of profiles provided by the Hydro Research Foundation that highlight potential future members of the hydroelectric power industry and their accomplishments.

The Hydro Research Foundation is actively supporting graduate students to conduct research related to conventional and pumped storage hydropower. These students are funded through the Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office and industry partners through a two-year grant.

Amy Shaw is pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University. She holds a B.E. in Civil Engineering with Mathematics minor (magna cum laude) and a M.S. degree in Environmental Engineering, both also from Vanderbilt University. She previously served as an Environmental Engineering Intern for the firm Camp, Dresser, & McKee. Currently, she conducts research related to reservoir modeling and optimization, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Program. She has received graduate fellowships from the National Precast Concrete Association, IBM, Chi Epsilon, and the Hydro Research Foundation. In 2015, Shaw received an award from HydroVision International in the Water Management and Movement category for her technical paper on her research. 

Shaw has been working with Dr. Eugene Lebouef to determine optimal seasonal operating schemes for a multi-reservoir system under environmental constraintsAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 11% of global energy usage is derived from renewable sources, and 81% of this renewable portion originates from hydropower. As energy demands increase, it becomes even more important to improve the efficiency and capacity of renewable sources. In particular, the U.S. DOE is interested in increasing hydropower generation at existing dams while improving the environmental quality of water bodies.

Increasing capacity can be achieved through optimizing different variables such as release patterns and operational controls, but can be complicated by hydropower’s use as a supplement to thermal electric plants during times of peak power consumption. Reservoir operations can also induce negative water quality impacts through changes in temperature and dissolved oxygen. As such, optimization of hydropower operations involves multiple objectives: balancing maximization of hydropower generation (efficiency) and peak generation production (reduction in thermal electric generation requirements) while minimizing environmental and climate impacts.

The goal of the proposed research is to apply state-of-the-art mathematical and modeling approaches for high-fidelity water quality model reduction and multi-objective optimization of multi-system hydropower operations, with the ultimate objective of maximizing energy production while minimizing negative environmental impacts.  As such, the proposed effort directly addresses specific identified research needs of U.S. DOE and the National Hydropower Association, and relates to multiple research areas of interest of the Hydro Research Foundation. The final deliverable from these efforts will be the development of a decision support system (DSS) for a multiple reservoir system for optimal hydropower generation coupled with environmental constraints.

Shaw has been working with mentors, Dr. Edie Zagona and Tim Magee with at the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems as well as Dr. Michael Sale at the Low Impact Hydropower Institute.  Upon completion of her research with the Foundation, Shaw plans to complete her Phd at Vanderbilt University. To connect with Amy or learn more about the Research Awards Program, email or visit


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