Bright prospects for hydropower – and some challenges

Sharing thoughts about today’s largest source of renewable energy

IEC TC 4 Secretary Robert Arseneault, winner of the 2016 IEC Thomas A. Edison Award, was at IEC Central Office (CO) recently to receive his award. Arseneault also shared a few thoughts with e-tech on some aspects of the future of hydropower in general. e-tech will report in more depth on certain lesser-known features of hydropower in the very near future. 

Turbine room Veytaux
Turbine room in original Veytaux pump storage plant that went online in 1970

Magic it is, but International Standards matter

In his acceptance speech for his 2016 IEC Thomas A. Edison Award, one that “recognizes exceptional current achievements of technical committee/subcommittee (TC/SC) and conformity assessment officers”, Robert Arseneault, Secretary of IEC TC 4: Hydraulic turbines, highlighted “the magic of electricity with power being available to billions at the flick of a switch”, magic that we now take for granted. “Physics makes magic possible, but IEC International Standards contribute to its universal acceptance and accessibility”, Arseneault said. However, he also stressed that considerable effort and consensus must be maintained by the “Thomas A. Edisons of the world” to continue ensuring that the equivalent of the magic of the flick of the switch endures and that the best technical choices keep on being made. 

It is worth remembering that the first IEC technical document for hydropower installations was published in 1913. 

Hydro is still the largest renewable energy source

In 2016, worldwide hydropower development grew steadily, with an estimated 31,5 GW of new capacity added, Arseneault told e-tech. This includes 6,4 GW of pumped storage, nearly twice the amount installed in 2015, and brings the world’s total installed hydro capacity to 1 246 GW.  Total hydro generation for 2016 is estimated at 4 102 TWh, the greatest ever contribution from a renewable energy (RE) source. 

Changing landscape of hydro

Hydro is additionally working together with other, often intermittent, RE sources to support grid stability and balance services, whilst also increasing individual efficiencies and creating net benefits. 

Using hydro pumped storage is essential to optimize the cost-effective use of global energy storage requirements, Arseneault said. 

Incorporating international good practice in developing project blueprints could help ensure projects are built to the highest environmental standards, thus contributing to the reduction of global warming and of CO2 emissions. 

Modernization looming on the horizon

Another emerging issue, Arseneault said, was the increasingly challenging management of hydroelectric assets, as many hydropower installations are reaching the need for major maintenance to extend their expected life. By 2050, it is estimated that roughly half of the existing hydropower equipment will require modernization. 

The concept of ‘global energy interconnection’, which has been extensively described in an IEC White Paper, has emerged as one of the latest trends in the development of major interconnections, regionally and on an intercontinental scale, to enable massive growth in renewable energy technologies and resources aimed at meeting global energy demand. 

The digitization of hydropower plants, control systems and surrounding networks is an emerging industry trend that promises to optimize asset management and performance.

Digital innovations include addressing cyber security issues, plant and fleet optimization, outage management, development of condition monitoring equipment and energy forecasting to increase the value of hydropower assets. 

Experts meet at special lab, visit pumped storage facility

Following his visit to IEC CO, Arseneault went on to provide support to newly-named Convenor and Assistant-Convenor for the kick-off meeting of newly created IEC TC 4/Working Group (WG) 36, which “prepares documents on transient calculations of hydraulic transients in hydropower turbine-generator units”. The meeting was held at EPFL-LMH, the Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The EPFL-LMH, presently the only independent laboratory of its kind in the world, tests models of hydropower equipment on three experimental test rigs and in a cavitation research facility

Much of its work is based on IEC 60193:1999, Hydraulic turbines, storage pumps and pump-turbines – Model acceptance tests. The laboratory director, Professor François Avellan, is Convenor of the Maintenance Team (MT) that is currently updating IEC 60193. 

TC 4 / WG 36 experts later visited Switzerland’s second most powerful pumped storage facility in Veytaux, near Montreux. This power station was recently modernized with the addition of two pump turbine groups, which doubled its output to 480 MW. 

e-tech will report on the activities of the EPFL-LMH and on the visit to the Veytaux facility in the near future.