The Power of Hydro

Article from Revolve magazine (source)

Despite the rise of Asian hydro equipment companies, the top three equipment suppliers to hydro power plants are based in Europe. Alstom, Andritz Hydro and Voith comprise over 50% of the world market, according to Christine van Oldeneel, Managing Director of the Hydro Equipment Association (HEA), and invest around €150 million per year on research and development across Europe.

Emmanuel Branche from EDF claims there remains 47% of untapped hydropower potential around Europe. The potential is therefore enormous considering that hydro has the highest electricity efficiency rate and the highest energy payback ratio with the most efficient storage technology and a very low carbon footprint on land and water.

However, many improvements can still be made. Investing in hydro requires long-term vision and high capital with the knowledge that there will be a late payback. Mr. Branche encourages the long permit granting procedure to be simplified and to harmonize the grid fees for pumped storage in different countries across Europe. He also stresses that it is now important to move from renewable to sustainable hydropower.


And there are important environmental considerations to address and to improve. Sergey Moroz, Freshwater Policy Officer at WWF, affirms that 40% of rivers are affected in Europe. When badly designed, badly managed or badly placed, dams can have negative impacts on nature, as described in the 2013 WWF report: Seven Sins of Dam Building

Just as some rivers are the wrong rivers to build dams on, so some hydropower plants may not be sustainably placed. He advises to use the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocoldeveloped by a multi-stakeholder body.

Olivier Teller from Alstom presented the HEA Technology Roadmap. This document offers five solutions for hydro generation to improve further its contribution to the European goals and targets. They include ways to increase the plant flexibility and the renewable energy generation from hydro and also the ability to maximize the environmentally-friendly deployment of hydro for fish to pass through turbines without danger and the development of oil-free turbines such as the Kaplan turbine.

Mr. Teller also recommends improving calculations for more precise testing to increase hydroelectricity production and to raise the capacity of pumped hydro storage. Double grid fees should be removed to encourage greater financing of innovation. On the transnational European level, more small hydropower can be developed and generated on grids. These recommendations are detailed in the technology roadmap that HEA will soon release.

For the time being, however, there is “no proper policy for hydro” in the European Union, confirms Clementine Lallier from DG Energy at the European Commission. “Renewables will become the core of Europe’s energy mix,” she says and hydro will play a prominent role due to the quick reaction time, the storage capacity and the potential for grid stability.

Supported by Intelligent Energy Europe, a European Commission funding mechanism, at the small hydropower level, the Renewable Energy Sources Transforming our Regions (RESTOR) Hydro is renovating and repowering abandoned sites to again generate hydroelectricity through local cooperatives. The European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA) coordinates the implementation and collection of data for 50,000 potential sites within European Member States. The project was launched in June 2012 with a budget of €2.5 million.


A fascinating dimension of the RESTOR Hydro project is the mapping of historical water wheels and mills that have fallen out of operation. This exercise enables the restoration of hydropower heritage and opens the door for small and micro hydropower to participate once again in providing energy; with 350,000 old sites within the EU-27, the impact could be very significant.

Compared to large hydro projects, RESTOR Hydro is rather small. The European Investment Bank (EIB) lent over €400 million to hydropower projects in 2012, which pales in comparison to over €800 million for offshore wind in Europe. Investing in a sustainable future will mean more financing for renewables in general, and for hydro in particular to become more innovative and more environmentally-friendly.

Writer: Stuart Reigeluth is Founding Editor of Revolve.

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