Can hydropower resolve the energy crisis?4 May 2023
If sustainable hydropower is to fulfil its critical role in future energy systems, the industry needs to move forward and learn from past mistakes.
“I think our work has never been more important as we come together at a critical time in history,” says Roger Gill, President of the International Hydropower Association. Speaking about the current energy crisis with escalating prices around the world, and conflict and tension in many regions, Gill said that it's driving us to think about energy security and a faster transition to wind and solar. “So there's a huge opportunity for sustainable hydropower to fill the hole left by coal,” he added.
Hydropower may be the grandfather of renewables but, according to the IHA’s President, “never has there been such a need for our industry” – not only in the fight to prevent climate change but to help with mitigation and ensure water and energy security. Hydropower has an essential role to play in the global path to net zero as it is key to the growth of other renewables: without hydropower, investments in wind and solar will not be enough.
Gill welcomed the recent comments from the Clean Energy Council's CEO Kane Thornton, who described hydropower as having “a renaissance” and who’s role in the future energy system is “now accepted as critical” to complement and support the growth of variable power, as well as working alongside batteries and other forms of energy storage.
“If people are saying that's not the case, then they are mistaken,” Gill said. “This is clearly the trend and people who are making significant grid decisions are now recognising the importance of this. But for hydropower to play that role, given the investment required, we’ve got to get going on significant investments urgently,” he warned, stating that to double hydropower across the globe over next 30 years, decisions need to be made now. “Our comment to everybody is business as usual will not get the job done.”
Gill also spoke about the fact that “as hydropower has been around for a while” the industry has had plenty of time to learn from past mistakes and that, he says, “is really important”. He urges the industry to avoid making old mistakes: sustainability must be at the heart of all decisions.
“We know that hydropower won't grow to its full potential unless it's done and is perceived to be done sustainably,” he says. “We've got to come out and show people that it can be done sustainably, and we know that if it's done right, it does have significant environmental and social benefits for communities, and delivers multiple positive impacts for people and groups across the world.”
Gill lists four things that need to be done:
- Mobilise stakeholders at a global and local level.
- Demonstrate that hydropower can be done sustainably – if not “the sceptics will always be circling”.
- Keep pushing forward make sure that hydropower projects always follow good practice.
- Speak up. “We've been too long sitting around hoping that people will pick us up,” Gill says. “We have got to get out there and say we can change this world with hydropower.”
Amanda Ashworth, Director of Strategy Sales and Commercial at Entura, agrees that the urgency is upon us with climate change reality. Although hydropower does have “somewhat of a chequered past” she says that there is the opportunity to learn from those past lessons.
“There’s a massive transition still ahead of us globally to lift electrification, alleviate poverty, encourage jobs and education, support economies, and secure water supplies – and hydropower projects have a very significant role to play in achieving these goals,” she said. “With robust sustainability frameworks and tools we have the opportunity to do good projects and to heed past lessons. Fast-tracking can’t come at the expense of sustainability, particularly local environmental and social impacts. Getting these factors right are a crucial part of the hydropower journey.”
Donald Vaughan, Entura’s Principal Consultant on Electrical and Primary Systems, discussed issues affecting the energy sector today, such as introducing lots of variable renewable energy sources into the grid, and displacing the support the grid has had in place for almost 100 years.
“As we introduce more and more variable renewable energy, we're seeing it undermine the ability of the synchronous machines that are left to maintain grid stability. If we think about grid stability in a more holistic sense,” Vaughan explains, “then we're talking about controllability first which is sort of classical stability but then we should also think about predictability and variability.”
Hydro has a role to play in addressing the challenges associated with each of those abilities:
- Controllability - generally hydro machines are synchronous machines and so they bring the inertia default level, the ability to respond to frequency changes and the dispatchability again. So Vaughan says hydropower has got the controllability aspects “nailed”.
- Predictability – As we know where the hydro is, how much storage there is at any given time, it can be called upon in a controlled way.
- Variability – hydro can generally be ramped up and down to mop up the differences that are being presented by the variable renewable energy sources, without huge impacts on efficiency or other knock-on effects that perhaps thermal machines might see in that space.
Richard Herweynen, Principal Consultant of Civil Engineering at Entura, has been working on pumped hydro schemes in Australia and Malaysia. He says that from his involvement in such projects it is clear that “hydro power is definitely playing an important role in the current energy transition”.
Pumped hydro storage is “the need of the hour”, says Rajiv Raynan, Entura’s Resident Director and Team Leader in India. He added that the Ministry of Power in India has clarified that energy storage systems will be an integral part of the new electricity bill, and work will soon start on compiling an atlas for Indian pumped hydro projects, possibly across South Asia as well.
“It seems the energy transition is fast moving,” Entura’s Director of Hydropower and Headworks Dale Bryce commented. “It certainly is across Australia and the Indo-pacific as we see the rise of cheap renewable powercomplemented by energy storage, with hydropower providing deep storage options for when the sun doesn't shine, and the wind doesn't blow. In the end it seems that all of this is going to be required as we confront the energy trilemma of energy security, affordability and environmental sustainability.”
Entura’s Webinar, Can Hydropower resolve the Energy Crisis? Global Hydropower Day 11 Oct 2022, can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXy42ndK5x4