An unprecedented year7 January 2021
We probably all agree that 2020 was an extraordinary year but how has the hydropower and dam industry fared throughout this global pandemic? Suzanne Pritchard reports.
At the beginning of the year, as we cheered in a new decade, we would never have believed that 2020 would also unveil the biggest global crisis many of us have ever faced.
Throughout the year IWP&DC checked in with readers to find out how they were coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the upheaval that country-wide lockdowns had brought to working practices.
“Life has certainly changed in recent months,” Tammy Chu, Managing Director of Entura told us in our June issue. “At Entura we’re (mainly) working from home but we’re keeping our projects moving and our spirits up.”
With offices spread across Australia, India, Laos and the Philippines, Chu explained that the company was already well set up and practised in remote working and virtual teaming.
“Many of us have found that this has enabled more personal and deeper connections, as we see each other’s home workstations, pets, slippers (!) and even family members,” she went on to say. “The sense of ‘being in this together’ has positively affected many of our relationships with our clients across the business as we pull together with a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose.”
Living in the city of San Pablo in Brazil, hydro and rockfill consultant Bayardo Materon gave a sobering insight into how the Coronavirus had spread rapidly in an uncontrolled way. More than 130,000 people were affected in a period of two months with more than 3000 deaths by May.
“As a consequence of this sad record and due to my age,” Materon explained, “it has been necessary to remain at home in rigorous quarantine but without abandoning my work, participating virtually in advising projects across various countries.”
As both an All Reservoirs Panel Engineer and a leader in Black & Veatch’s consultancy business in the UK, it was a case of business as usual for Rachel Pether. She said: “Reservoir safety remains a priority and so my team and I continue to carry out reservoir inspections, having put in place social distancing and other Covid-19 related control measures for these visits.
“I am tremendously proud of the way that our team has responded to this challenge and grateful for the excellent support that Black & Veatch is providing to all of our professionals who are still carrying out essential work in the field.”
According to Bombora Wave Power’s Project Manager Madeline Cowley, the company identified Coronavirus as a project risk in January. In the weeks running up to the UK lockdown, the management team put in place Covid-19 policies and its 26 employees prepared for remote working.
“Wifi connections were checked and boosters supplied where necessary. When the lockdown finally came at the end of March, the team transitioned quickly,” Cowley says. “With home-working already a practised arrangement for many of Bombora’s staff, we were well adept at video conferencing day-to-day, making the process of staying connected remarkably smooth.”
The company also had great co-operation within its global supply chain in order to navigate a clear path for a speedy return to the assembly of its 1.5MW mWave device, when it was safe to do so.
With her company Sixty7 PR, Ellan Campbell-Swann has years of experience working in the hydropower industry. However, Covid-19 has affected her whole life.
“My business, the result of seven years of sacrifice and hard work, has changed almost beyond recognition, with all events and exhibition work dropping off a cliff,” she told IWP&DC in May 2020. “I’ve lost clients and trusted suppliers and I’ve watched colleagues and friends lose their jobs or become furloughed, unable to do anything but sit and wait. The first few weeks were full of fear and a pretty rocky ride for all of us, but we’ve had to adjust and accept this is how it is right now - for everyone.”
Admitting that nothing is ever going to be the same again Campbell-Swann still tried to find the positives: she was forced to overcome her “ridiculous fear” of cameras and has spent hours in Zoom meetings as well as offering workshops online.
Travel within the hydro industry has also been severely impacted by Covid-19. Andrew Bird, Senior Hydropower Engineer at Stantec, said that most of his travel was curtailed as the majority of it was to highly vulnerable communities, such as the Pacific Islands, which had to be protected from the virus. While Martin Proos, Director at Ninety One which manages the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, said that he has been at home longer than for any other time since 2008.
Executive Director of Genex Power in Australia, Simon Kidston, said that everyone’s working life has been affected by the virus. His company implemented a strict work from home policy with all meetings held via Zoom.
“I am looking forward to returning to the office and working in a ‘team’ environment,” he admitted. “While Zoom and other video conferencing platforms do well at bringing people together, they cannot mimic being in the office, with a group of people collectively working towards a goal.”
Craig Emmet from Hydro Tasmania says it has been great how business and technology has responded and kept up with the crisis. Although face to face communication was preferred by senior managers, he says virtually everyone has positively embraced phone and video conferencing. However, he admitted, he did feel “pretty flat” after ten hours a day of video conferencing while everyone adjusted to operating in a Covid-19 environment.
“Many, in this short period of time, have found it overwhelming. The positives that emerge include professionals that are learning to work efficiently from home and adapt to technology that contributes to efficiency,” Stephen O Simmons from Kiawah Consulting Group in the US said. He believes that travel will become more efficient in the future as those who need to travel for meetings may use technology and digital applications for business discussions where applicable.
Like most industries worldwide, the prevalence of Covid-19 throughout 2020 has impacted the way the hydro industry operates, and many workers have had to work remotely. As IWP&DC reported in our May issue, participants at a webinar organised by Norwegian Energy Partners discussed how remote working is considered a key tool to combat the spread of the virus. Automation company ABB explained how it started to accelerate remote connectivity for customer operations during this unprecedented time.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, governments and companies are having to make difficult choices, balancing people’s safety with economic livelihood. ABB is committed to supporting both: protect people, while helping businesses to stay operational during these challenging times,” Peter Terwiesch, President of Industrial Automation at ABB said. “Remote services and digital solutions can make a major contribution to keep people safe, production running, and critical supply chains and economic livelihood preserved.”
As the pandemic took hold businesses were being directed to limit site work but at the same time needed to ensure that assets continue to operate across utilities, power generation, water management, data centres and the transportation of goods, amongst others.
ABB said it was working with customers to ensure access to field operators and service engineers who cannot be on-site at this time, by delivering control room livestreams, operational insights, process data and plant key performance indicators to users sheltering at home.
In mid April, to support infrastructure engineering ecosystems working from home, Bentley Systems announced that it would open full access to its ProjectWise 365 cloud service and waived subscription fees through to the end of September.
The company said that work-from-home conditions and coordination with multiple parties highlight how critical it is for project teams to always stay connected and productive. ProjectWise 365 cloud services helps to rapidly deploy a common BIM collaboration environment that avoids the data silos, coordination delays, and other limitations experienced while using network drives, file sharing services and email.
As travel restrictions and country-wide lockdowns continued throughout the year various industry conferences and meetings were switched to online versions instead. This led to the rise of the virtual conference and webinar.
On 2 July, Akselos sponsored a Business Review Webinar which looked at extending the life of Ireland’s only pumped storage station with a structural digital twin (as reported on p18 of the September issue of IWP&DC). Then on 27 July IWP&DC sponsored a webinar focusing on how digitalisation is transforming the hydropower sector.
Looking to the future, many events are also maintaining an online presence during these uncertain times. The International Congress and Exhibition on Hydropower in Central Asia and the Caspian will be a hybrid conference with both an offline and online approach from 17-18 February 2021.
Training has also had a greater online presence throughout 2020. Like many other organisations, the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) has taken an online approach to training courses.
As ICH explained in our July issue, after 25 years of offering a wide portfolio of training courses to the hydropower industry, the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged them to be innovative. Although previously ICH had “to some extent” used internet-based solutions in their courses, as a result of Covid-19 they decided to make most of those planned for 2020 available as remote courses.
Commenting that their lecturers and staff had “adapted beautifully” to the new environment, ICH believes however that in the long term remote courses cannot replace live ones: personal interaction and time spent together outside of the classroom are still invaluable.
In April Tractebel also announced that it was offering a free online training course delivered by experts from the company to focus on hydropower and the key issues and challenges in a changing energy world.
“This project has been a real technical and human adventure,” says Tractebel Technical Director François Halgand. “We thought it up for all those who wish to better understand hydropower and we brought in our dedicated experts to cover each domain,”.
Disappointed that it could not hold its traditional dam open day event, in July Australian utility Sunwater offered people a unique Augmented Reality (AR) experience at the Callide and Burdekin Falls Dams. Virtual open days were available via the Sunwater website.
Using AR technology to run a dam open day was a first for the company, according to Executive General Manager of Water Resources and Dam Safety James Stuart.
“Like many organisations, we have had to be flexible and think differently about how best to deliver programmes to our customers and the community in response to the Covid-19 public health crisis,” he said. “For the Callide and Burdekin Falls Dams open days, it was important to find a way to share vital information with the community, while ensuring everyone remains safe and we’re delighted to have found a way to do that.”
Historic energy shock
As reported by the International Energy Agency in May 2020, Covid-19 has delivered the biggest shock to the global energy system in more than seven decades. Global energy demand plunged and dwarfed the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. IEA projected that energy demand would fall by 6% in 2020 which was prompted by worldwide lockdowns. For each month of worldwide lockdown annual global energy demand reduced by about 1.5%.
However, at the same time, the IEA said that lockdown measures drove a major shift towards low carbon sources of electricity, including hydropower, wind and solar PV.
“The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” Dr Faith Birol, IEA’s Executive Director warned. While Eddie Rich, CEO of IHA believes that the Covid-19 pandemic will reset society and the economy in ways “we cannot yet imagine”.
Speaking at the Norwegian Energy Partners webinar, as reported in the May issue of IWP&DC, Rich said the hydropower situation differed across various countries. The initial impact of Covid-19 had impacted supply chains and delayed some projects, and in countries such as Brazil demand had reduced so much that a new round of energy auctions was cancelled. However, Rich spoke about the interesting development in India which demonstrated large scale testing of hydro capacity and proved that hydropower should be viewed as an essential service.
On 5 April India undertook perhaps the largest electricity experiment the world has ever seen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for Indians to switch off their lights for nine minutes at 9pm to express solidarity amid the Covid-19 pandemic
While the Prime Minister’s aim was to unite citizens during a time of crisis, the move presented a huge challenge for power operators, who are charged with managing grid stability.
India’s Power System Operation Corporation had anticipated a much smaller reduction of 12,000 to 14,000MW in the nine-minute period than the 31,089MW which ultimately took place.
Prior to the event the state-owned company reportedly held a conference call with all state load despatch centres and major hydropower stations on 4 April, and began mock exercises on hydro ramping almost immediately.
As the country reached closer to the lights-off vigil, hydropower generation was maximised. When people began switching lights off between 8.45pm and 9.10pm, hydropower generation was then quickly reduced from 25,559MW down to 8016MW to match the demand reduction.
Thanks to hydropower’s unique flexibility, the stations were then able to ramp up within seconds to meet the increased demand, as Indian households began switching their lights back on.
“I think that is quite an interesting lesson that hydropower is able to meet this kind of demand. These are the kind of stories we need to get out there,” Rich said. “We’ve never really seen that kind of large-scale testing of hydro capacity.”
Looking to the future and post-Covid-19 recovery plans, Rich said it represents an opportunity for hydropower to position itself as never before.
“It is going to lay the foundations to how we set out the decades ahead,” he commented. “When there have been oil crisis or financial crisis previously, the return to fossil fuels has happened very quickly. We can’t let that happen this time if the targets set in Paris are going to be met. This is an important time to advocate for renewable energy.”
With the above thought in mind, 16 international and national organisations representing the global hydropower sector released a joint statement in May 2020, setting out guiding principles for energy infrastructure policy in the Covid-19 recovery.
Representing hydropower developers, operators, manufacturers, researchers and innovators including the world’s largest hydropower producers in China, the US, Canada and Russia, the statement was co-ordinated by the IHA. It set out how the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated hydropower’s resilience and critical role in delivering power and water supplies to communities, industry and essential services.
The 16 organisations called on policy-makers to recognise hydropower’s vital importance to the clean energy transition, due to the unique services it provides to integrate and support variable renewables such as solar and wind.
Later in June 2020, 11 hydropower CEOs met with the IEA and IHA to re-iterate that hydropower needs to be included in economic stimulus packages for renewables to aid Covid-19 recovery efforts. IEA Executive Director Dr Faith Birol acknowledged that the “voice of hydropower is not heard loudly enough in the energy and climate debate”.
In October, IEA’s flagship publication Energy Outlook 2020 gave an updated analysis of the pandemic’s impact. It stated that global energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7%, and energy investment by 18%.
The IEA report focuses on the pivotal period of the next 10 years, and explores four different pathways out of the crisis, with renewables taking a starring role in all scenarios. While solar takes centre stage, the report does recognise that as flexibility needs increase, hydropower will have greater value.
Responding to the report, IHA’s Head of Policy, Alex Campbell, commented: “Under all scenarios in this flagship report, hydropower will continue to have an important role as a major source of low-carbon electricity as well as vital flexibility and storage services. It is vital that appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks are in place to properly value the essential services that sustainable hydropower provides in respect of energy storage, grid stability and other critical areas.
“IHA urges governments and regulators across the world to start planning now for the flexible grids of the future that will support the integration of variable renewables with reliable and flexible solutions like hydropower.”
Build back better
One of the key phrases repeated throughout 2020 has been to “build back better” in a world recovering from Covid-19. In our July issue we looked at how there is an even greater argument for funding investment in watershed security.
“There is a need to provide funding for watershed work, however the world has changed and the context has changed with Covid-19,” Tim Morris, Project Director at the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative in British Columbia, Canada, said. “The question the government is grappling with now, as they begin to plan and figure out what economic recovery looks like, is ‘what opportunities do we have to take this step forward?’ I think we have the opportunity here to make the case for investing in watershed security and showing how it can play a critical contribution to building BC back better,” he says.
Morris explained that there is a whole host of employment opportunities, both skilled and semi-skilled, linked to watershed activities. They can provide a stimulus to not only help industry and business sectors that are struggling post-covid, but also provide employment opportunities that are ideal for social distancing considerations.
Morris also spoke about the New Zealand government and their economic recovery response to the Covid-19 crisis which has been focused on saving the environment while creating jobs.
In May 2020, New Zealand Environment Minister David Parker announced that over the next five years more than NZ$430 million will be injected into regional environmental projects, creating over 4000 jobs. Aimed at improving New Zealand’s waterways in partnership with local governments and farmers, it is anticipated that the programme will deliver huge benefits to local businesses, accelerate regional economic recovery and advance national and regional environmental priorities. Work will include restoring mini wetlands, stabilising river banks, removing sediment and providing for fish passage. Supporting employment across New Zealand, the funding will allow businesses considering redundancies and downscaling to deploy their staff on environmentally focused activities in their home region, until they are rehiring and workers can return to their previous roles.
“One government that is a little ahead with its plans because of its success in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, is New Zealand,” Morris said. “This example highlights from an employment perspective the kind of benefits watershed work can have, and this model can be easily and appropriately replicated.”
Mott Macdonald’s digital rehearsal tool Rehearsive can help plan and review operations ahead of time.
As a result of the pandemic, the hydropower and dams industry has been compelled to rethink planning and construction methods. As reported in our July issue, this has accelerated adoption of new ways of working. Mott MacDonald believes that digital rehearsal, working in virtual reality to review plans and designs, optimise processes and rehearse on site activities, will become an essential technology in the design and delivery of projects.
“You can plan and review operations ahead of time, with the freedom to fail and learn so that you an get the job done right, first time,” says Andrew Zhao, Head of Immersive Technologies at Mott MacDonald which has developed a digital rehearsal tool called Rehearsive.
In response to Covid-19, Rehearsive has been updated to incorporate a social distancing visual aid. Mott MacDonald says this will help contractors save time and money by optimising socially distanced construction processes in virtual reality.
“Virtual reality has come of age,” Zhao says. “And we’ve harnessed that to work through the practical challenges involved in construction.”
Other industry-wide digital developments include:
- Akselos’ digital predictive twin for large asset integrity management.
- Doka’s virtual model based on building information modelling for the construction of a reservoir in Vienna.
- Voith’s digital health assessment collaboration with Snowy Hydro - plans are afoot to transform the Murray 1 scheme in Australia into a smart hydropower plant.
Looking to the future in a post coronavirus world, digital technology looks well on its way to becoming the new normal for industry.
The impacts of Covid-19 were still being felt throughout the industry, with many countries preparing for a second wave of the virus.
On 12 November 2020, Manitoba Hydro reported that 26 workers at the Keeyask construction site in northern Manitoba, Canada had tested positive for Covid-19. In addition 30 workers were isolating on site at the hydropower plant.
In a statement the company said that it continues to adjust its course of action on site as the spread of Covid-19 increases province-wide and provincial pandemic response plans change. Some new measures taken include:
- Testing of all workers at the construction site
- Initiating a temporary workforce reduction
- Temporary closure of lounges, theatres and gym facilities
- Removing enclosed smoking shelters.
- Temporary elimination of table seating in dining halls with workers taking meals to eat in dorm rooms.
In comparison, countries like the Solomon Islands, home of the Tina River Hydropower Development Project, still only have a handful of reported cases. As a result, the 15MW development has avoided significant delays and remains on track with preparations for the first stage of construction well underway.
“Just to get to this point on a major renewable energy project during such unprecedented times is no easy feat for a developing country,” says Sarina Laurence, Communications Advisor for the project. “The Solomon Islands, like all countries, are now experiencing the ripple effect that the global crisis has had on its economy. In a fortunate twist of fate, the unintended consequence is that Tina may now be rightly positioned to play another vital role in a carefully crafted plan for an economic stimulus package needed for the country’s recovery…With green recovery post Covid-19 on every government’s agenda, Tina will continue to progress now with an even greater purpose.”