International Norms for small hydropower

10 August 2011



Due to the shortage of finance and technology, many developing countries have to overcome various obstacles in order to develop small hydro projects. One such obstacle is the absence of international norms, To achieve an early normalization and standardization of SHP development, it has become necessary to compile a complete international norm on SHP so that global SHP exploitation could be stimulated effectively. By Ms Xialei, Cheng and Mr Daqing Pan


As one of the cleanest and environmentally sound energies, small hydropower has been more and more favored globally. In developing countries especially, there is an urgent need to develop renewable energies like small hydropower, wind power, solar power. The unelectrified population worldwide totals around 1.6 billion so far, a substantial number of which live in the vast rural areas rich in small hydropower resources. Thus, developing small hydro power is their priority.

Many developing countries have to overcome various obstacles in small hydro development. One such obstacle is the lack of small hydro norms. In order to promote global small hydro development, the authors believe it is necessary to set up international norms.

Demand from developing countries

Apart from China, developing countries such as India, Brazil, and Vietnam and so on have formed their own norms for small hydropower. However, most developing countries who have just started SHP construction do not have their own norms, and instead apply the norms of other countries.

Due to the disconformity of the norms, difficulties in coordinating SHP design, construction, supervision, equipment supply occur. For example, in the case of an on-going SHP project, if several countries provided the design, construction, supervision and equipment supply separately with their own norms, there’d be frequent disagreement, divergence or contradictions during the implementation, affecting the project process.

Project symbols, codes and technical indicators that different countries adopt in design can differ. No unified norm could cause issues in drawings and technological data.

It is uneconomical for some developing countries, in the absence of their own SHP norms, to utilize large hydropower norms. For example, some countries applied large hydropower norm for SHP design in flood grading, with the same flood norm for both plant and dam, which can lead to the raise of the anti-flood bank for the power plant or the increased elevation of the power house, thus reducing the productive head and increasing the investment. What’s more, the design is also rather complicated. Take another example, the design for an SHP station of one developing country was undertaken by a local company, using the norm for large hydropower in configuration for relay protection. If the Chinese SHP norm is adopted to simplify, at least 100,000 yuan can be saved in the investment of relay protection for each unit. In China, there are separate SHP norms of flood protection for both the dam and the power house. The configuration for relay protection is much more simplified than that of large hydropower, which is both economical and practical.

Furthermore, it is not easy to coordinate the project design and construction if there is no norm. For example, there was virtually no norm and not much tunnel construction in Southeast Asian countries. Thus, it is hard to coordinate the technologies, construction requirements and so on.

There is an urgent demand for the internationalization of SHP norms for developing countries. Since its establishment in 1981, Hangzhou Regional Center (Asia-Pacific) for Small Hydropower has held 59 international SHP training workshops with more than one thousand international participants. Participants expressed that China has gained rich experience in SHP development. Some 45 thousand SHP stations have been built with the installed capacity of over 55GW and annual power output of over 160 TWh which account for over 30% of national hydropower installed capacity and power output. Nearly 50 SHP norms have been compiled in China during the past decades.

The need for international SHP norms

1. Unification and communication of norms among different countries
Establishing a unified and complete international SHP norm is conducive to the unification and communication of norms among different countries, reducing the difficulties of coordination in terms of SHP design, construction, supervision and equipment supply and so on, accelerating project progress, so as to have earlier benefit from the project.

2. Avoiding problems
Different countries have their own successful experience in developing SHP. The establishment of a unified international SHP norm enables the collection of successful experience and proven technology from different countries, from which developing countries can benefit and avoid downfalls in developing SHP.

3. Technical progress
Technical exchanges can be conducted among countries in the process of establishing international SHP norms. Global SHP technology can be promoted by summarizing and recommending advanced and practical SHP technology, especially the environment-friendly SHP technology. For instance, China has extensive experience in SHP construction, particularly in reducing SHP construction cost and promoting technical progress. Many advanced technologies in some developed countries are worth popularizing as the result of conducting successful researches on environment-friendly SHP.

Advantages to compiling international norms

Technically proven
Some developed countries and a few developing countries have established their own SHP norms. For electrical equipment, IEC and other international norms are available and could be taken for reference. Therefore, there are no substantial technical obstacles in the compilation of international SHP norm.

Institutionally feasible
In order to promote the development of global SHP, UN organizations have established an international center and regional centers for SHP. The compilation of an international SHP norm could be coordinated by International Center on SHP and participated by experts from various countries.

The next approach

We recommend that the International Center on SHP coordinate to set up a compilation committee to draft SHP Technical Guidelines for the application in developing countries. After the application and improvement, they would then submit it to the ISO for approval and transformation to the international SHP norms.

It is anticipated that the establishment of international SHP norms be supported by all the countries concerned, as the they could benefit from them, no matter whether it is an advanced country or a developing one. Governmental organizations and international institutions such as GEF, UNEP, ESHA, regional SHP centers and etc are expected to participate and support.

Ms Xialei, Cheng: Director of Hangzhou Regional (Asia-Pacific) Center for Small Hydropower(HRC), Senior Engineer with the professor rank, Chief Editor of the journal Small Hydropower. Address: 122, Xueyuan Road, (310012). Phone: 0571-56729103,E-mail:[email protected]

Mr Daqing Pan: Director of Foreign Affairs & Training, Hangzhou Regional (Asia-Pacific) Center for Small Hydropower (HRC), Address: 122, Xueyuan Road, Hangzhou, China (310012). Phone: 0571-56729285,E-mail:[email protected]




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