While it would be hard to call hydropower the forgotten renewable when it already produces seven percent of US electricity, the industry’s role as a technology driver with the same funding and financing challenges as other innovative sectors is often shortchanged when consumers and regulators imagine solar panels and wind turbines.

But the hydropower sector is an area of constant reinvention through technological innovation, National Hydropower Association executive director Linda Church-Ciocci told Breaking Energy at the recent US Association for Energy Economics summit in Washington, DC.

For comprehensive coverage of the USAEE summit, click here.

In addition to a constant drive to greater operational efficiency–as high as 95% and better–the sector is building on its experience in handling small-scale power generation to generate power in places many would find hard to imagine. Micro-turbine applications, ocean tidal power and projects generating “conduit energy” in man-made channels are all part of hydro’s innovation efforts, Church-Ciocci told us.

Breaking Energy recently created an infographic detailing the potential of the hydropower sector, click here to see and share it.

With the right federal incentives and a more seamless permitting process, hydropower has a lot of room to grow its US footprint. There are hydropower units on a tiny percentage of all US dams, and Church-Ciocci says the US has only developed a quarter of its current potential.

One mechanism for boosting investment and interest in hydropower in the US could be the Clean Energy Standard process on Capitol Hill. The proposed bipartisan effort has had trouble moving through a deadlocked Congress, but Church-Ciocci says it remains a vital part of recognizing her sector’s contribution to meeting ambitious renewable energy requirements and emissions-reduction goals.