Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines and Assessment Protocol

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum is a collaboration of representatives from different sectors who aim to develop an enhanced sustainability assessment tool to measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector, based on the Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines and Assessment Protocol developed by the international-hydropower-association (iha); that the Forum would recommend for adoption by IHA and endorsement by HSAF members.

The Forum’s work centres around the IHA’s Sustainability Assessment Protocol. The final version of the protocol was released in November 2010, and is a sustainability assessment framework for hydropower development and operation. It enables the production of a sustainability profile for a project through the assessment of performance within important sustainability topics.

To reflect the different stages of hydropower development, the Protocol includes four sections, which have been designed to be used as standalone documents. Through an evaluation of basic and advanced expectations, the Early Stage tool may be used for risk assessment and for dialogue prior to advancing into detailed planning. The remaining three documents, Preparation, Implementation and Operation, set out a graded spectrum of practice calibrated against statements of basic good practice and proven best practice. The graded performance within each sustainability topic also provides the opportunity to promote structured, continuous improvement.

Assessments rely on objective evidence to support a score for each topic, which is factual, reproducible, objective and verifiable. The Protocol will be most effective when it is imbedded into business systems and processes. Assessment results may be used to inform decisions, to prioritize future work and/or to assist in external dialogue.

According to the IHA, a wide application of the Protocol is desired; it should be applied in a collaborative way, to ensure the best availability of information and points of view. The development and evaluation of a hydropower project will involve many actors with different roles and responsibilities. It is recognized that both development and operation may involve public entities, private companies or combined partnerships, and responsibilities may change as the project progresses through its life cycle.

The need for a simple measurement tool, that is practical, objective, and able to be implemented across a range of contexts has been an objective in development of the IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol and is a key consideration in the work of the Forum.

There is little doubt that the protocol will have a major impact on the industry in the coming years, and has been developed to be one the most comprehensive certification standards for hydro power projects, taking into account not only environmental considerations but also critical social and economic issues in a sound, sustainable development approach.


HSAF Forum members meet with resettled villagers at the Shuibuya Hydropower Project, China, October 2008

Marine energy developments

There have been major developments in the marine energy sector recently, and it looks like these will continue over the coming years. Early last month for example, the pioneering Wave Hub marine energy project off the coast of Cornwall in South West England was plugged in for the first time since its installation over the summer and is now officially open for business.

Wave Hub has created the world’s largest test site for wave energy technology by building a grid-connected socket on the seabed 16km off the coast, to which wave power devices can be connected and their performance evaluated. The £42M project has been developed by the South West RDA (Regional Development Agency) and is a cornerstone of its strategy to develop a world class marine energy industry in South West England and the UK.

Wave Hub consists of a 12-tonne steel chamber on the seabed in 55m of water some 16km offshore connected to land via an armoured subsea cable. The chamber splits the main subsea cable into four 300m ‘tails’, each of which serves one of the four berths available at Wave Hub.

The project holds a 25-year lease on an 8km2 area of sea, and each berth measures 1km by 2km. The Wave Hub site boasts one of the best wave climates in Europe and the system has a capacity of 20MW, but is designed to be scaled up to 50MW in the future.

The project’s first customer will be Ocean Power Technologies, using its PowerBuoy wave energy converter.

Other major developments in the marine sector includes Atlantis Resources Corporation recent successful deployment of its AK1000 tidal power turbine, believed to be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, on its subsea berth in 35m of water at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland where it will undergo three years of testing.

EMEC recently completed a £5M expansion, taking the number of test sites from nine to twelve. As well as Atlantis, Voith Hydro Ocean Current Technologies contracted to begin installing turbine prototypes on the new tidal berths this year, Finnish company Wello Oy is preparing to trial a wave energy device next year, and Scottish Power Renewables and E.On have just joined forces to trial two Pelamis wave power machines at the centre.

There have been numerous other marine and tidal projects in development recently, and details of these can be found on our website: www.waterpowermagazine.com. Once these projects begin commercial operation, they are likely to have a major effect on renewable power development globally.

Tidal turbine

Atlantis Resource Corporations AK100 tidal power turbine

Pumped storage working with other renewables

The issue often at the forefront of many hydro engineers discussions is the use of pumped storage to control the power balance in a network.

There is no doubt that the hydropower industry will grow as more variable renewable energy come onto the grid. The US Department of Energy (DOE) for example predicts that growth in wind power alone will require an additional 50,000MW of energy storage on the grid, creating a strong opportunity for new pumped storage development.

The countries which already have a higher penetration of renewable energy into the grid/or are planning for a large renewable capacity; are also planning to ramp up their pumped storage capacity at the same pace. Even companies with higher wind installation are looking to develop their own pumped storage plants for the optimisation of renewable energy sources. A recent report by business information company GlobalData showed that an increasing trend in pumped storage installation can be observed in countries with a higher renewable penetration plan.

Pumped storage is the most established and efficient energy storage technology – so far no other storage technology meets the criteria to absorb the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources on a larger scale in a cost effective manner.

As wind power continues to develop globally, so too will pumped storage. This technology is likely to attract some major investments from both the public and private sector, and we will no doubt see new projects spring up throughout the world to join the many projects currently under development, such as the Ingula project in South Africa, Nant de Drance in Switzerland, and Limberg II in Austria.

Nant de Drance

Construction work underway on the Nant de Drance PS scheme

Adding hydropower to existing dams

At the end of last year, the national-hydropower-association in the US released details on a report that examined the hydropower industry’s job creation and capacity growth potential. The Job Creation Opportunities in Hydropower report, prepared by Navigant Consulting, said that the US hydropower industry could install 60,000MW of new capacity by 2025, creating up to 700,000 new jobs. Much of this potential could be found at existing facilities, as in the US only a small percentage (3%) of dams are used to generate electricity.

There are many more opportunities globally. Dams that have currently being used for water supply and recreation could be utilised for the multiple purpose of power generation. As the facilities already exist, it is a case of adding the extra equipment at, often, minimal costs.

There is a variety of equipment in the marketplace that can be utilised at existing projects. Last month, for example, we carried an article looking at Norwegian firm CleanPower AS’ latest offering – a combined axial turbine and generator called the Turbinator. The unit, which is a compact fully sealed generator, can be installed at a site without the need for a powerhouse. A pilot installation, in cooperation with Statkraft, was recently completed, with the unit operational more than 98% of the time.

In the US, Texas-based renewable energy systems developer and integrator Hydro Green Energy has developed patented hydrokinetic technology which is deployable downstream, in the tailrace, from existing hydropower projects. This system, which is known as Hydro+, bolsters the overall clean energy output of the existing project in an environmentally-sound manner. This type of project is an innovative approach to conducting an incremental hydropower upgrade, which is eligible for a variety of green energy incentives.

In late 2008, Hydro Green Energy, in partnership with the City of Hastings, MN, installed the US’ first-ever commercial, federally-licensed hydrokinetic power station. Power operations began in early 2009 at this Hydro+ facility, which is a 4.4MW run-of-river hydro plant on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Lock & Dam No. 2.

The company has also developed a patented technology that allows for power generation at existing non-powered lock and dam infrastructure. Known as Lock+, this patented technology is a power-generating lock gate that is deployed in the downstream portion of an auxiliary or active navigational lock, thus converting the facility into a renewable waterpower facility. Hydro Green’s technology is also deployable in the cooling water discharge systems at thermal power plants for energy recovery or energy efficiency purposes and is called Efficiency+.


View of the Hastings site in the US

Small hydro

Small hydro is big business. As governments strive to meet growing renewable energy targets, small scale hydropower projects look an increasing attractive option. According to a new report, Global Small Hydro Power Market Analysis to 2020: Installed Capacity, Generation, Investment Trends and Regional Analysis, produced by industry analysis specialist company GlobalData, small hydro power generation is gaining importance due to its social and financial benefits over large hydro power, with global small hydro cumulative installations growing at a CAGR of 6%.

China currently has the largest market in small hydro, with the use of government incentives one of the reasons behind the successful development of such resources, including obtaining grant subsidies and low-interest, long-term loans from the central government; keeping profit from existing plants instead of handing it over to the government for further expansion of the electricity sector; and the introduction of public-private participation in the small hydro field.

Internationally, the classification of small hydro projects typically ranges from 5MW-20MW but in China the scale encompasses projects up to 50MW. By the end of 2007, rural small hydro stations accounted for over 53GW of total installed capacity, with much more under development.

In China, over a quarter of the population is supplied by small hydro but such figures are not replicated across the globe. In numerous developing countries a large proportion of small hydro potential is yet to be harnessed. For example, in Africa there is huge potential but less than 20% of possible resources have been exploited and the majority of the population there has no access to electricity.

Only 4% of the population has access to electricity in Rwanda, and the comparable figures for neighbouring countries include 7% in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 8% in Kenya and 13% in Ethiopia. Furthermore, in other countries a large number of small hydro stations have been built but many are not operational or are operating inefficiently. The majority in Malaysia – 35 out of 42 stations – need to be refurbished.

There is massive potential in small hydro and lately it seems that the world’s governments are beginning to recognise this. For example, a number of countries are now providing cash incentives for home owners to implement small hydro projects on their land. In the UK for example, Climate Change Minister Greg Barker recently announced that former mills and water turbines which are brought back to life in the UK will now be eligible for financial support under the UK Government’s feed-in tariff scheme. To help drive forward the ambitious new plan, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also launching the new hydropower help guide, prepared by the Environment Agency, which offers advice to groups looking to use the power of local streams, weirs or rivers to cut emissions and generate new income for their areas.

Currently hydropower in the UK is generating the equivalent of 1.4% of electricity demand with a potential to contribute up to a further 1%– enough to power the equivalent of one million homes. In the last two years alone the EA have seen a 12-fold increase in applications for hydropower permits.

Such developments offer many opportunities for the industry – in particular the equipment manufacturers who will be needed to kit out new projects or work on the refurbishment of existing schemes.


View of the dam at the Canedo small hydro project, Portugal