O&M strategies for hydropower

3 June 2020

The World Bank, in collaboration with the International Hydropower Association, has published a new handbook on operations and maintenance to help enhance the efficiency and reliability of the worldwide hydropower fleet.

With 1300GW of global installed capacity, hydropower accounts for more than 60% of renewable energy generation worldwide. Paying attention to the operation and maintenance (O&M) of these facilities is described as being critical: 52% of this capacity was installed before 1990 and thus makes such assets now particularly prone to requiring major rehabilitation. In addition, the full benefits of hydropower are not always realised as the O&M of facilities can sometimes be overlooked, especially in developing countries.

Whereas most generation technologies have a life of 20–30 years, a well-maintained hydropower facility can operate for more than 100 years. Good O&M practices are essential to maintaining this longevity. 

Lack of effective O&M can result in loss of electricity production and revenues, high replacement fuel costs, high outage rates, performance losses, and premature large refurbishment costs. The consequent lack of reliable power can have severe economic and development costs for communities. In some countries, breakdowns in hydropower plants lead to increased use of thermal resources, with detrimental environmental consequences. Poor O&M practices can also affect employee and public safety. Serious failures can result in fatalities and environmental and property damage.

The turbine hall at an old hydroelectric plant in southern Taiwan. A well-maintained hydropower facility can operate for more than 100 years.

Collaboration efforts

In an effort to help enhance the efficiency and reliability of the world’s hydropower fleet, the World Bank has published a new handbook focusing on O&M. With the support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and in collaboration with the International Hydropower Association (IHA), the bank is supporting the promotion of good O&M practices and models, with an integrated approach for adequate services and asset-life management in hydropower.

With the support of SECO through the Global Water Supply Partnership the bank agreed to facilitate the development of the new handbook to assist stakeholders, especially in developing countries and emerging economies, in preparing an O&M strategy for existing and future hydropower assets. 

The publication is intended for use by asset owners, facility and utility managers, and decision makers from authorities, including the following: 

  • State-owned power utilities.
  • National public entities such as ministries and regulatory authorities.
  • Regional public authorities managing cross-border assets.
  • Private developers and independent power producers
  • Specialised O&M operators.
  • Engineering, procurement, and construction contractors.
  • Financial institutions, including development banks.
  • Developers.

María Ubierna, IHA’s Hydropower Specialist and Research and Policy Team Focal Point, welcomed the World Bank publication and said the association was delighted to contribute. “Global decarbonisation efforts rely on the hydropower fleet continuing to provide vital generation, flexibility and storage services to electricity systems,” she said. “Access to this essential handbook and case studies will help owners and operators to optimise and maintain their facilities to fully realise the benefits of hydropower to the grid.”

Benefits of a robust O&M strategy

The handbook seeks to raise awareness about the benefits of developing robust O&M strategies for all existing hydropower plants and those under development. Unlike many other forms of generation, the cost of implementing a robust O&M strategy for hydropower accounts for a relatively small percentage of the value of electricity generated. However, failure to implement adequate and sufficient O&M can result in very high costs due to increased losses of production (direct and indirect) and higher needs for rehabilitation and equipment replacement. Hence carrying out appropriate O&M strategies and related programmes has a very high return on investment. 

Each hydropower facility is individual in nature due to its size, location, age, configuration, purpose, environment, equipment, and a wide range of other parameters. It is not possible to produce an O&M manual that suits every situation as a bespoke and detailed O&M strategy is required for each hydropower facility. So the handbook sets out the framework and processes that should be adopted to establish an appropriate O&M strategy. It also presents the basic principles of O&M for hydropower and provides some examples of the consequences of inadequate O&M policies, programmes, and procedures.

The handbook outlines an eight-step process for preparing and implementing an O&M strategy.

  • Step 1: Carry out a diagnosis to determine the current state of the O&M programme and asses the performance of the plant. A technical evaluation will also be conducted to review the condition of major equipment and infrastructure, and to assess the need for replacement and/or repairs.
  • Step 2: Establish the objectives to be achieved through the implementation of the O&M strategy. Objectives will target meeting technical operating rules, as well as legal and regulatory requirements; establishing modern maintenance management systems to preserve and prolong the life of the assets; and ensuring the safety of assets and people while protecting the environment. 
  • Step 3: Determine activities and measures to reach the strategic objectives established in Step 2 based on the diagnosis completed in Step 1.
  • Step 4: Explore O&M contractual models based on the findings from Steps 1–3. Contracts could be structured as follows: Model 1: The owner retains sole responsibility for O&M; Model 2: The owner outsources some O&M responsibilities to consultants, contractors, or suppliers; Model 3: The owner outsources all O&M responsibility to an independent operator.
  • Step 5: Investigate organisation and staffing options. Ensuring that the right people, with the right skills and experiences are available at the right time is essential to a successful O&M programme.
  • Step 6: Calculate financial resources needed for a sustainable O&M programme.
  • Step 7: Validate the strategy through a cost benefit analysis. 
  • Step 8: Implement the O&M strategy, including developing operating plans.

The above steps are illustrated by six case studies summarised in the final chapter of the report. They cover a range of types and sizes of facilities and show the practical application of the models described in Step 4. These are real-life examples provided by IHA member organisations and show their own O&M strategies in practice. They include:

  • Statkraft Energias Renovaveis, Brazil.
  • Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant, Liberia.
  • Kainji-Jebba Hydropower Complex, Nigeria.
  • New Bong Escape Hydropower Project, Pakistan.
  • Nalubaale-Kiira Hydropower Complex, Uganda.
  • Salto Grande Hydropower Complex, Uruguay/Argentina.

Pierre Lorillou, Senior Hydropower Specialist at the World Bank, said: “A lack of O&M strategies and resources often results in frequent and severe outages, which can result in high costs, losses of valuable electricity, and sometimes a threat to the sustainability of hydropower facilities. We hope that this handbook will support preparing such strategies and mobilise resources where deemed necessary.”

* In the World Bank report O&M refers to all activities needed to operate and maintain hydropower facilities, including repair and refurbishment. The report adds that even though hydropower operation and maintenance should comply with a comprehensive dam safety programme, dam safety aspects are not addressed in detail since guidelines are already largely available on dam safety.

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