You became Chair of IEC TC 4 at a difficult time, during the Covid-19 pandemic. What are the main challenges for the hydro sector?
Globally, the situation is difficult both for manufacturers and utilities. Because of confinement, people have consumed less. The economy is slowing down as well. This has already affected energy consumption. The hydro sector will have to make savings like all the other energy sectors, while striving to remain the biggest source of renewable energy in the world. It is quite a tall order. Hydro electrical energy, while less expensive to produce than nuclear power, must compete with other sources of renewable energy which can be cheaper, especially for newly installed capacity. But it has the huge advantage of being one of the only renewable energies that can provide long-term and substantial levels of energy storage. It makes sense to combine hydro with other sources of renewable energy which are fluctuating like wind and solar.
What new technologies are likely to impact hydro power?
Automation is becoming increasingly important, together with the use of control commands and control command software. Increased automation raises issues relating to cyber security. In TC 4, the first step will be to adapt cyber security standards produced by other IEC TCs. We are not planning to reinvent the wheel. Different countries have their own cyber security standards as well, some of which are state of the art. I learned from my eight-year experience in Israel, where I worked on a project to help build a hydro plant, that the country’s cyber security standards are very strict.
It is also important to bring facilities that have been around for decades up to date, by replacing parts using the latest technologies: turbines have evolved a lot over recent years and can be adapted to different water flows and function at variable speeds, for instance. Climate change and environmental degradation have resulted in a reduction of water inflow at some hydropower plants, as well as a decrease in reservoir levels. Some hydropower plants suffer from water head reduction, together with a decrease in efficiency of energy conversion in hydro turbines. Variable speed turbines can be a more energy efficient solution. Sensors and micro-processors perform better every year thanks to technology innovations. The aim is to improve the performance of installed facilities and make them more efficient.
What will be your priorities as Chair?
My absolute priority will be to ensure that there is balance between manufacturers and utilities inside TC 4, so that each side understands the other and that we can reach compromises. One of my tasks will also be to recruit new experts, notably for one of our working groups which prepares standards for small hydro facilities. This is an expanding area: in France, around 50% of the hydro installations are small facilities and the standards required are quite different from the ones developed for big hydro plants. But not enough experts want to be involved.
Could hydro power replace nuclear energy in France?
I think that an efficient energy mix is the best solution for the country and hydro is increasingly part of that equation. Hydro represents the best way to store energy and its flexibility ensures it complements all the other sources of energy.
What new standards are in the pipeline for TC 4?
The technical committee just published the IEC 63132 series of standards which provides guidance for installation procedures of hydroelectric machines. These standards are very useful for countries wishing to install new hydro facilities and which have little or no prior knowledge of hydro power. New hydro plants are being built in parts of the world you would not necessarily expect. It shows that hydro can adapt to very different environments and help any country diversify its energy sources. I mentioned Israel where EDF helped to install a pumped hydro storage facility on Mount Gilboa. The company is also involved in the Hatta project in Dubai. TC 4 is also working on bringing a couple of standards up to date: IEC 60609-1 and IEC 60609-2 on cavitation pitting evaluation. It is also preparing a new standard on standardized technical specifications governing fatigue of hydraulic turbine runners. This standard is important to ensure hydraulic turbine runners last as long as possible.