According to The Strategic Study for the Development of Small Hydropower in the European Union (Sherpa 2008), hydro potential for both upgrading existing plants and the development of new projects has been estimated in the region of 10,000MW or 38,000GWh annually. This figure is classed as being economically feasible as environmental constraints have already been taken into consideration. The total potential in EU-27 is closer to 68,400GWh annually.

Across Europe the greatest potential can be found in Austria, France, Italy, Poland and Romania: countries which already have high a high uptake of small hydro generation. In addition Norway, Switzerland and Turkey show great potential.

Such considerable, and to a large extent, untapped potential across Europe could make a significant contribution to future energy needs, as well as helping to meet EU goals to make the transition to a low carbon economy by 2050.

However, according to the european-small-hydropower-association (esha) the current situation of small hydropower development in many EU-27 member states can be described as survival rather than development.

Disappointing growth rates

The growth rates of small hydro during the past years in terms of production and capacity have been rather disappointing. At fault are the many barriers that the sector is facing from environmental requirements and timely administrative procedures. ESHA believes that environmental issues in general and the implementation of the Water Framework Directive are endangering the future development and realisation of small hydro potential across the EU.

In Poland for example, a recent moratorium on small hydropower was carried out with consideration also being given to the withdrawal of already approved permits. The justification of this was that small hydro damages rivers without substantial energy production. Meanwhile in Slovenia a decree in 2009 on residual flow means that the loss of production for new plants will be between 30-60%, making it unprofitable to build new small hydro plants. Things haven’t been made any easier in France either where a new river classification exercise has resulted in reducing the planned 7TWh of hydro production by 2020 to 2-3TWh.

Paradoxically, ESHA points out, at the same time small hydro development in the US is booming. Federal incentives have helped the market for small hydro to grow and local communities are identifying small hydro as a pathway to energy sustainability and independence. Similar trends can also be seen in other countries such as China. European leadership in this sector, ESHA warns, is seriously in danger.

Comprehensive information

A new initiative was established in 2009 to help resurrect European small hydro. Stream Map is a project co-ordinated by ESHA and co-funded by the European Commission’s Intelligent Energy Europe Programme. It will run for three years until 2012. A consortium of ten partners is involved in the project and each has been carefully selected to facilitate data collection from all EU-27 member states. Those involved include:

• Italian Association of Renewable Energy.

• Portuguese Renewable Energy Association.

• Belgian Renewable Energy federation.

• France Hydroelectricite.

• British Hydropower Association.

• Slovenian Small Hydropower Association.


• Swedish Renewable Energy Association.

• Institute for Hydro and Design Romania.

• Polish Hydropower Association.

Stream Map has involved the creation of the first comprehensive hydro information database to cover EU-27. The Hydro Data Initiative (HYDI) centralises all hydro information and is structured into three sections: energy, market and policy. Access to the database will be free and user friendly. With a reference year of 2007 it will also be updated on a yearly basis. Questionnaires have been sent to a register of sources in each member state and information is being collected on (amongst others):

• Installed capacity.

• Power production.

• Costs and fees.

• Timeframes for authorisation processes.

• Impact of regulations etc.

Once information has been fed into the HYDI database internal data quality control is carried out by the consortium. This will also be cross-checked with information from The European Renewable Energy Council, the hydro-equipment-association Europe and Euroelectric.

Based on the data collected a road map for the small hydropower sector will be produced, facilitating analysis of upcoming trends and future prospects. The compilation of such useful data will provide a vital instrument for lobbying and communicating with national and local decision-makers. The ultimate aim will be that such self-promotion will help to remove barriers and improve conditions for small hydro development and contribution towards RES Directive targets set for 2020.


The second round of data collection for HYDI began in the spring of 2011. Current findings and the latest news from Stream Map were set to be announced at the Hydro11 conference in Prague in October 2011. The end of the project in 2012 will be launched by the publication of the road map. A CD-rom and complete hydro statistics will be available from ESHA upon request. For more details log onto