Hydro education

28 June 2006

With the increasing growth of the hydro power industry throughout the world, the need for educated and skilled personnel in this field is on the rise. Vinit Parida and Michel Cervantes report on a study undertaken by Luleå University of Technology which demonstrates the importance of higher education in hydro

Hydro power produces nearly one-fifth (2600TWh/Year) of the world’s electricity (12900TWh/Year), and is second only to fossil fuel-generated electricity (coal, oil, and gas). According to a study by Utility Data Institute, US, it is predicted that to sustain the electricity needed for the next ten years, hydro power has to contribute 22% globally (IHA/IEA/CHA, 2000). Europe and North America have already installed more then 60% of their hydro power potential. The developing continents are currently utilising only a small portion of their potential; Asia (20%), South America (19%), and Africa (7%). Globally, nearly 1.6B people have no access to electricity and about 1.1B people are without adequate water supply, mostly in developing countries (Altinbilek, 2004). Fortunately, the hydro power potential to generate electricity and water reserves in those rapidly growing regions of the world is also very high (IHA/IEA/CHA, 2000).

Concern over disruptive fossil fuel markets and constantly increasing price, and the significant environmental consequences of thermal energy sources, has placed greater emphasis on sustainable energy policies that include the significant development of renewable energy supplies. Hydro power is suitable because of its sustainable characteristics, as the ‘source’ is renewable. Developed and developing countries alike are confronted with the problem of climatic changes which are already having a significant and adverse global impact. To reduce or limit these impacts, it is essential that the global average temperature should not rise above 2°C to the pre-industrial levels (Rae, 2005). Hydro power provides 95% of renewable energy globally and will play a major role in reducing these adverse effects of climate change. Furthermore countries with ample reserves of fossil fuels, such as Iran, China, India and Venezuela, have opted for a large-scale programme of hydro power development, recognising the environmental benefit and needs.

Hydro power as a source of energy does however have its share of drawbacks. The dam construction and submerged areas of hydro power changes the environmental balance. Sedimentation sometimes occurs with dam construction, which can lead to a lack of freshening soil, which in turn has adverse impacts on sustainable riparian vegetation. Marine life can also be affected by change in habitat quality and availability, changes in flow regime and fish passage.

One of the most critical impacts is on water quality. This is experienced both downstream and upstream of the dam. Some of the effects can be increased or decreased dissolved oxygen, increase in total dissolved gases, modified nutrient levels, thermal modification and heavy metal levels (IHA/IEA/CHA, 2000). The contamination of discharged water from a hydro power generation plant due to leakage of oil can also have adverse affects on marine and human habitants. An efficient operation and maintenance programme is needed to ensure such incidents are avoided. The safety aspects of operation and maintenance procedures are also an important area which needs to be emphasised during training and education of personnel. These environmental effects can be minimised at the construction and operational phase, with the assistance of highly educated and skilled people in hydro power engineering. These people can plan, monitor and coordinate activities during the life cycle of hydro power plants.

Purpose of the study

Energy suppliers and consumers demand a highly reliable and uninterrupted power supply. The hydro power industry needs to meet these requirements quickly with the help of technological aids, such as condition and remote monitoring. These technological advancements not only demand design and operational changes, but they also need skilled personnel for operational purposes. This is even more important as the majority of developed countries have opted to upgrade existing plants, rather than new build schemes.

As this technology develops, there is a growing need for training and education of hydro power personnel. The situation becomes critical when a large number of skilled and experienced personnel retire. According to Cervantes, 50% of personnel in the Swedish hydro power industry will retire within the next few years. This will generate a vacancy for 40 engineers each year for the next 10 years (Cervantes, 2005). A similar situation may exist in other countries. This has created a need for educational and training programmes to meet the energy industries’ requirement.

To gain a better understanding of the hydro power education and training programmes around the world, a literature review was undertaken (IEA 2000). In the literature the focus was on recommendation of teaching material and reference literature related to hydro power planning. However, the report – which is now over five years old – did not primarily focus on the hydro power related educational and training programmes around the world. As a result, a report was conducted by the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden to determine the different hydro power educational programmes throughout the world.

potential, demographics, and education

In the study, data was collected from 30 countries in five continents: Africa (eight countries), Asia (nine countries), Europe (five countries), North America (three countries), and South America (five Countries). Both developed and developing countries were selected, with all having either large installed hydro capacity, or potential for future development. The authors believe that these sample countries are a significant representation of the world’s overall hydro power scenario.

Installed and potential capacity

The installed and planned hydro power capacities are presented in Table 1. The table indicates the known fact that European and North American countries have a large installed capacity – but they do not have any major plans for future development. Asian, African and South American countries have plans for the development of their hydro power. In both situations, the issue about trained specialists in hydro power remains important. Developed countries have many working people, who will soon retire. Countries installing new hydro power plants need new personal to build and run the facilities. This emphasises the urgent need for organisations and institutions to plan and cater for future educational and training programmes in hydro power.

Hydro demographic

The initial aim was to look in detail at the age structure of hydro personnel in the different countries. However, due to a lack of data, a broad perspective was used. The concept of ‘Economically active population’ recognised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) was used. The economically active population comprises all persons of either sex who furnish the supply of labour for the production of economic goods and services as defined by the United Nations systems of national accounts and balances during a specified time-reference period.

The data was collected for the year 2000 for all 30 countries, with the motive to look at the age composition of people working in these countries. The authors also looked at the scope for educating the future working population. Regarding African countries, it was observed that most of the working people were in the age group of 15-39 years old. In Asian countries, the same pattern was found, except for Nepal, where the age group of 10-14 was high. In Europe, there is an increase in the age structure, as the major group are aged between 25-49. In Spain, the age group of 20-24 was high, whereas in Sweden and Switzerland the age group of 50-54 was high.

North American countries had a similar age structure, with most of the population between 25-49 years old. South America did not have similarities in its age group; for example, Paraguay and Brazil population was mostly aged 15-39, whereas in Chile, Venezuela, and Argentina the age group 20-44 was predominant.

The demographics in Europe and North America are ageing and this identifies the need for educating and training new personnel to replace the retiring work force. Similarly, the demographics of Africa, Asia and South America were mostly young and there is scope for educating the younger generation.

Education and training

To obtain an insight into education and training, all major universities from the selected countries were contacted by internet, email, phone, and through personal contacts. The response was reasonably high considering the time constraints for collecting data. The authors are aware that the presented data may eventually not be complete. But this does not affect the main finding that came out of the study – the authors understand that hydro power as a separate programme has not been fully developed. The criteria for any university to be regarded as a provider of a complete programme in hydro was to focus primarily on hydro-related subjects. Hydro power is still to a large extent taught as a supplement to other basic engineering programmes such as hydraulic engineering, water resource engineering, and power engineering. Some universities have researched the field of hydro power, even though they do not have a complete programme. The hydro industry and government agencies in some countries have come forward and created their own educational and training programmes for their own personnel.

The data related to installed and planned hydro power suggested that developed countries have already exploited their major potential and developing countries are moving in the same direction. This means the focus that developing countries need to place on education is vital, and could lead to further research into hydro power products and techniques.

Table 2 briefly illustrates the state of hydro power education and training in the selected country. It was difficult to get detailed and structured information. In these 30 countries, four countries have a complete programme focused towards hydro power, and 24 of them have courses in hydro power that are part of other programmes. Only three countries do not have any education and training in hydro power, whereas 10 countries have research and development activities related to the subject. Finally, government and industry have taken an incentive for training in hydro power in 14 countries.

The countries and universities that are providing complete programmes are:

• China: More than nine universities offer programmes in hydro power and have separate departments for hydro. Some of the major universities are Tsinghua University, Dalian University, Tianjin University, University of Hohai, Wuhan University, and Xi’an University.

• India: The University of Roorkee offers an M.Sc. Course ‘Alternative Hydro Energy System’. Two centres at the university – the Water Resource Development Training Center (WRDTC) and the Alternative Hydro Energy Center (AHEC) – are active offering education and training to the region.

• Sweden: The Hydropower University was formed with collaboration between Luleå University of Technology and Uppsala University, and provides an M.Sc. in Hydropower Engineering. It aims to provide students with state-of-the-art knowledge and experience on parts of the hydro power system such as turbine technology, generator design, rotor dynamics, tribology, dam safety, maintenance and operation, and environmental aspects.

• Norway: The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) offers an M.Sc. in Hydropower Development. The programme’s main focus is on teaching the development and construction of hydro power plants. It also provides a full range of courses and research leading to an M.Sc. or Ph.D. in hydro power planning and design for Norwegian students.

Need for sustainability

As discussed in the previous sections, it is imperative that the education and skill enhancement for the hydro power generation needs to be planned and controlled to keep pace with the fast moving future requirements. To meet these requirements, a proactive approach needs to be adopted by world bodies like the World Bank, UN, governments, industry and educational institutions. Hydro power potential exists in about 150 countries and about two-thirds of the technologically and economically feasible potential remains to be developed, mostly in developing countries where the needs are most urgent (Altinbilek, 2004). It is going to be difficult to cope with the large scale trained manpower requirement in a limited time period. The option of providing in-house training by the hydro power industry is an alternate possibility. But why not create engineers and specialists at the university level that are willing to work in the industry and develop collaboration amongst universities and industries?

Hydro power as a supplement to another engineering degree is not a solution for satisfying the requirements of specialists in hydro power. It is a vast field and for someone to work in this area there is a need for them to have knowledge in more than one engineering field, they need to be familiar with a variety of different fields such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, maintenance and operation, and environmental engineering.

Hydropower University at Luleå, Sweden

Education and training is an important element when developing, operating and maintaining hydro power plants. However, it is well understood that there is a lack of such educational programmes at university level around the world. The effort put in by the Hydro Power University (HPU) in Sweden is therefore worth mentioning. HPU was created in 1997, with the purpose of providing an International Masters in Hydropower. Unlike other courses offered around the world, HPU accepts students from multidisciplinary fields like civil, mechanical, and power engineering. The goal of the Masters programme is to allow the students to obtain an integrated and comprehensive picture of hydro power engineering (Cervantes, 2005). Students are given an opportunity to conduct practical experiments at several Laboratories and at operating power generating research facilities, as well as visits to power plants to gain first hand experience in hydro power generation.

HPU is also involved in research work in the field of hydro power in close collaboration with the industry. The work involves several disciplines like; turbine technology; rotor dynamics; tribology; dam safety; and maintenance and operation engineering. A centre of excellence for hydro power is also functioning at HPU, as part of the university and industry collaboration for this purpose. More support from all concerned is however still required to enhance the training and research capabilities.


Table 1
Table 2

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