Highlighting hydro developments

15 May 2009

Members of the hydro industry reflect on the major developments in the industry over the past six decades and comment on important issues for the future

Alessandro Palmieri, Lead Dam Specialist, World Bank

The process initiated by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) has been the most relevant change in the last decade. After three years of WCD, and six years of the UNEP’s led Dams and Development Project (DDP), the latter project came to an end in June 2007. The compendium Dams and Development: Relevant Practices for Improved Decision-Making (www.unep.org/dams/includes/compendium.asp) represented DDP’s main output.

The following is an excerpt from UNEP’s covering letter to the compendium:

‘This publication departs from the approach followed by most literature on dams which tends to focus on shortcomings and failures. Instead it presents practices that, though not exempt from weaknesses, show a positive or progressive way of doing things.’

This is a remarkable statement which departs from the sharp critique of an alleged worldwide ‘business as usual approach’ portrayed in the WCD report. Whether that was a WCD flaw, or if significant progress has occurred after that report, is not clear and not so relevant anyway. The substance is that a positive message on improved decision-making came out of the DDP exercise.

From a technological point of view, hydro power is a very mature industry and, as such, very reliable. Its renewable nature gives hydro power, and especially hydro power with storage, an enormous importance in helping humankind to limit the use of fossil fuels which is the real cause of excessive releases of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In the challenging endeavour of curbing excessive emissions, hydro power is the ideal partner of other renewable energy sources which do not have the same reliability of supply. I have no doubt that synergy between hydro and wind, hydro and solar, solar and geothermal, etc will play a significant contribution to greenhouse reduction and sustainable development.

Technology is far from being a barrier to that goal. The real barrier is the minds of many, often important policy makers, who view hydro as an ‘alternative’ to other renewable energy sources. When these people will be able to open up their minds and realise the huge synergetic opportunities, we will have made a big step forward.

IWP&DC can contribute to make this happen, and I am confident it will.

A handful of international magazines bring relevant information about dams and hydro power to the interested audience. IWP&DC is the one that has done this for the longest time. To the merit of its editors, the magazine has been able to adapt itself to the changes of demand and supply trends in water and energy.

For IWP&DC, age has gone hand-in-hand with innovation and the ability to adapt the contents of the articles to the changes that have occurred in the sector during the last decade or two.

Email: Apalmieri@worldbank.org

The views expressed in this note are entirely those of author and should not be attributed in any manner to the World Bank, to its affiliated organisations, or to the members of its Board of Executive Directors, or the Countries they represent.

Kenneth D. Hansen P.E., Consulting Engineer

In my view, the birth of the roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam has been the single most important development in dam engineering in the past 30 years. This opinion is shared by many others.

With respect to dam construction in the early 1970’s, more and more embankment dams were being built at sites that could accommodate a concrete dam. This was mainly because they cost less. Earth moving construction methods had advanced more rapidly than concrete construction methods. Mass concrete dams continued to be placed in large monoliths, called blocks, bucket by bucket, like Hoover Dam in the early 1930’s.

Still, earth dams had problems. They were more prone to failure, mainly due to overtopping during a flood or due to internal erosion, called piping. Concrete dams continued to have an excellent performance record. Only one recorded concrete dam has failed in the US during the past 80 years for any reason.

Both structural and geotechnical engineers were thus seeking a way of solving the problem of producing a concrete dam at less cost, while maintaining its inherent safety. This is what brought about the innovation of the RCC dam.

While quite a few examples of early dam projects using RCC have emerged, I feel three projects stand out. They are the use of 2.7Mm3 of what was called “rollcrete” for the rehabilitation of Tarbela dam in Pakistan between 1974 and 1986 together with the completion of Shimajigawa Dam in Japan and Willow Creek Dam in the US in the early 1980’s.

Much has been learned from the pioneering designers of early RCC dams with respect to seepage control, cracking, and stability. This has led to a high degree of acceptance of RCC dams throughout the world. By the end of 2008, the number of completed RCC dams greater than 15m high is nearing 400. They were built in 46 counties on six continents.

RCC dams are now being built higher, larger and at greater speed. Longtan Dam in China will soon be completed to a height of 216.5m, while tenders for the 272m high Diamer Basha dam in Pakistan are expected this year.

Thus, a new dam type or more correctly a new dam construction method was developed by innovative engineers identifying a problem and coming up with a solution. However, the early designs were not without problems along the way. These early pioneers in the birth of RCC dams are due a high degree of gratitude by those who followed in building RCC better, higher and faster.

Email: ken@ken-hansen.com

international-centre-for-hydropower, Norway

Laura Bull is the head of studies at the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) in Norway. As we celebrate the past 60 years her hydro focus is very much on the future. Here she explains how the ICH is helping to meet the ever-changing challenges imposed upon the hydro industry.

Risk management in general is a process aimed at an efficient balance between realising opportunities for gains, and minimising vulnerabilities and losses. It is an integral part of management practice and an essential element of good corporate governance.1

Every activity which mankind involves itself in is susceptible to suffering events, which can have a negative impact. Throughout history we have been implementing methodologies which allow us to confront these threats. Based on our intuition, we have developed technology to this end. Risks exist within decision-making as well as within the normal development of activities in every working enterprise; and indeed all organisations are exposed to these risks.

The hydro power industry is no exception. Energy efficiency has been determined by risk management and it has become vital; in view of the international financial crisis and the very real challenges which climate change presents for water management. This is in addition to the contemporary political processes and the activities of regional integration in several continents, where the relations country to country are a key parameter for hydropower generation.

In accordance with ICH’s interdisciplinary training, we have established the Hydropower Risk Management Course for 2010 which will embrace an integral analysis, in order to meet the needs of the ever-changing world.

The course’s specific objectives are to:

• Create awareness of new international trends of risk management in the hydro power development process.

• Develop the participant’s ability to identify, qualify, evaluate and design measurements to monitor and manage the different risks on a strategic level.

• Enable participants to implement methodologies in their own socio-cultural context.

The course aims to give a global vision of risk assessment for hydropower. It will update and familiarise participants with the new concepts and will be led by a team of international experts.

Through courses such as this, ICH continues in its work to help develop competence and raise the standards of hydro industry personnel. For more detailed information regarding ICH courses please contact: Laura C. Bull Head of Studies at ICH. laura@ich.no. To subscribe to ICH’s monthly newsletter visit www.ich.no

[1] ENISA, European Network and Information Security Agency. 18/06/06


As IWP&DC marks its 60th anniversary, 2009 will also be a special milestone for the European Small Hydropower Association (esha).

ESHA has represented the interests of the SHP sector in the European Union since 1989 when it was created through an initiative of the European Commission. In 2000, ESHA decided to join its colleagues representing other renewable energy sectors in the Renewable Energy House in Belgium. The representation of a Secretariat in Brussels has helped to improve the image of the sector and aid its development through lobbying activities at different EU levels.

The small hydro industry has faced many challenges over the past 20 years. SHP in the EU context is defined as covering plants with an installed capacity up to 10MW. Even if in quantitative terms the sector represents only a small part of renewable energy production, it offers much potential and great scope for development. It has an important contribution to make to EU energy needs through:

• Combining with other renewables.

• Integrating in multipurpose systems.

• Upgrading and refurbishing existing sites in the EU.

In addition the latest policy developments, with the newly adopted RES Directive paving the way for 20% renewable energy by 2020, will bring a new drive for sustainable hydro power development. Furthermore, those linking water and energy as precious interconnected resources have identified small hydro as a reliable supplier of electricity generation, especially for rural populations without access to grid electricity.

The past 20 years have served to position the small hydro sector and make it speak with one voice, underlining its beneficial use. On the technological side, improvements have been made on more efficient and less costly turbines but the largest efforts have been in developing more appropriate turbines, such as fish-friendly and very low head turbines.

ESHA’s 20th anniversary will be a great opportunity to remember all these aspects, to celebrate achievements, but also to think about the future. Much is still pending and many challenges are ahead. Times are changing and we have to change with them. We need to think now about ESHA’s contribution to facilitate the reaching of the 2020 targets and to represent the interest of sustainable hydro power within the renewable energy family. This will enable us to contribute to the EU’s security of energy supply, to economic development as well as to the abatement of climate change.



The National Hydropower Association in the US is pleased to congratulate International Water Power & Dam Construction on 60 years of service in helping the hydro power industry stay connected on a global scale. Through the magazine, hydro power interests around the world have had the opportunity to follow our industry’s successes, best practices, and challenges.

This is an exciting time for the hydro power industry. In the US, where we have marked more than 125 years of hydroelectric generation, we’re at the beginning of a new era that is already seeing new technologies and new opportunities become available. This year started off with the licensing of the first commercial US hydrokinetic facility, and we anticipate many more milestones, especially as policies favourable to hydroelectric development and federal research and development come to fruition.

As nha looks to the future, we see another century of hydro power ahead. We’re confident that IWP&DC will be there to report on and continue to serve the international hydro power industry for many years to come.

The NHA’s annual conference will be held in Washington DC from 11-13 May 2009.


Fred Ayer, Executive Director, Low Impact Hydropower Institute

The changes that have taken place in the US hydro regulatory arena since I started working with the Federal Power Commission, later renamed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), are many. In 1974, I was a draftsman for a small Pittsfield, Maine engineering company that had a few hydro clients. One day one of the partners asked me to take on a new assignment and deal with ‘red tape’ created by a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington. He assured me that it shouldn’t take more than five hours a week, tossed me a copy of the Federal Power Act, and wished me luck!

Since that time I have spent almost my entire career working on hydro licensing and relicensing projects as a consultant, a hydro utility employee, and most recently head of a small non-profit low impact hydro certification organisation.

When I started, the environmental statutes that drive much of the complexity, contention, and decision-making associated with licensing and permitting hydro projects were in their infancy. They were also poorly understood by most of us trying to work with them. It was a time when people who owned and operated hydro projects (mostly utilities of one stripe or another and a relatively small contingent of industrial operators) did not feel they had an obligation to consult with the resource agencies or the public.

The burgeoning interest in hydro development during the late 1970s created a flood of preliminary permits, five to six times more than normal. This hydro ‘gold rush’ became the focus of disenfranchised stakeholders. During this period, FERC lost court battles and stakeholders were successful in getting Congress to listen. This led to major changes in FERC regulations requiring hydro owners to consult with, and pay heed to, non-developmental interests.

The hydro industry’s reaction to the increased transparency and requirements to consult was not a positive one. They resisted the changes. Meanwhile the NGOs and state and federal resource agencies began to understand the importance of becoming active participants in the FERC regulatory process as a way to meet their goals. Some licences took many years, and many lawyers, to resolve. These were sometimes in the licensee’s favour but more often than not in the favour of a tribe, state or NGO. Licensing had become very expensive and lacked any kind of certainty.

Finally, wiser heads prevailed and friend and foe worked together to find ways to fix a system that they all agreed was broken. Forward thinking licensees and other stakeholders began to explore a variety of ways to resolve these multi-party disputes over the proper use of the resources. New words like settlement, adaptive management, and collaborative task force became part of the hydro regulatory lexicon. We had arrived.

Today there are still disagreements, but they don’t go to court as often as they once did. And now it is not unusual for stakeholders who participated in the settlement agreement to become ‘partners’ who stay actively involved in the project.

Email: fayer@lowimpacthydro.org

Dr. Siegbert Etter, CTO, and Jürgen Sehnbruch, CMO of Voith Hydro

One of the most significant changes of the last 50 to 60 years was the formation of contractors capable of providing electrical and mechanical turnkey solutions for hydro power plants. Half a century ago, this spectrum was covered by a multitude of different sized companies; then the business experienced two waves of consolidation in the 1960s and just before the turn of the Millennium.

Nowadays there are less, but therefore economically and technically strong global players serving the worldwide hydro market. Voith Hydro, the joint venture of Voith (65% share) and Siemens (35% share), is one of them. We joined forces in order to supply complete hydro power plant solutions, and to offer modernization and services from one source.

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the markets in South America and Asia became sensitized for hydro power, and namely Brazil was one of the first countries in that area showing an interest in developing its tremendous hydro power potential. Japanese companies focused especially on Asian markets, including India and the Pacific region. It was not until the Chinese market started to open up that Western companies were able to participate in major projects there, such as Three Gorges. In the meantime, mature hydro power markets offer large potential for modernization projects. Quite a number of large new projects are planned in emerging markets who need to meet their increasing energy needs, and, at the same time, cope with issues of low-carbon energy generation.

A major issue that has had quite an impact on the hydro business is the importance of sustainable energy generation. In the public perception, eco-friendly power generation is becoming more and more important, including hydro power and especially small hydro power, so many manufacturers have intensified their efforts.

Today, the planning and construction of large projects is proceeding with an increased sensitivity of environmental and social impacts. Voith Hydro and the Hydropower Equipment Association (HEA) strongly support the Sustainability Guidelines and the ongoing Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum process of the international-hydropower-association (iha).

We have long been involved in dialogue with conservation groups and NGOs. In conjunction with an Indian customer and a respected global environmental protection agency, a specific hydro power project has, for the first time, been assessed on a trial basis on the grounds of the current Sustainability Assessment Protocol of the IHA. It was not our first, but certainly a very important step on the way to reconcile impacts of hydro power with new criteria for sustainability and help to grow awareness of these issues.

As for the most important technical developments of the last 60 years, it is almost impossible to refer to only one advancement. The development of the output capacity as shown in the figures above, however, is proof of the many R&D developments which have taken place to technically support such a tremendous increase in the output capacity of a single turbine-generator unit. And this doesn´t seem to be the end; the not-too-distant future will bring us the 1000MW unit which again will be a tremendous historical step. Of course we are proud to have written this history ourselves many times and we will continue to do so in the future

IWP&DC has observed and accompanied all of these developments over the last 60 years. Happy birthday, IWP&DC!


Figure 1
Figure 1: Project history

Figure 2
Figure 2: Generators

Ziping Huang, Senior Hydropower/Geotechnical Engineer, Project Manager

The largest hydro power project in the world – Three Gorges – has been developed in China. However, modern hydro development in China started back in 1984 when the government decided to use a World Bank loan to construct the Lubuge hydro power project on the Huangli River, southwest China. The project was the first in the country to call for international bids for construction work – specifically on the headrace tunnel. A Japanese company, Taisei Corporation, won the bid and completed the project successfully, five months ahead of schedule. Norwegian and Australian consultants also worked on the underground powerhouse and the dam. The foreign contractor and consultants brought new concepts of project Management to the construction sector in China. In the 1980’s, the experience gained at Lubuge contributed greatly to China’s deeper reform and open policy.

China was on its way to modernization, and the construction of the Ertan hydro power project is a great milestone in this process. Ertan was the largest hydro project completed in the 20th century in China. The project has an installed capacity of 3300MW, and features a 240m double-curvature concrete arch dam and a 280m(L) x 25.2m (W) x 65m (H) underground powerhouse. Construction began in 1991 and the first generator commenced operation in August 1998. It was well planed, designed and constructed. A US$930M World Bank loan was used for construction and thus international construction and suppliers were involved. Over the relatively long construction period, Chinese engineers were educated in international methods of construction work, including competitive bidding, construction management based on FIDIC contract conditions, and advanced construction technology, including underground engineering.

The Three Gorges project is so far the largest hydro power project in the world, and has probably experienced the heaviest disputes internationally. The total installed capacity of the project is 22,400MW with annual production of about 100TWh. Construction began in 1993, with a planned schedule of 17 years. The dam reached its designed height of 185m in May 2006, approximately one year ahead of schedule. This project is a great engineering achievement in hydro industry.

Email: ziping.huang@norconsult.com

Figure 1 Figure 1
Figure 2 Figure 2

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