IHA World Congress – advancing sustainable hydro power

6 October 2009

EXPECTATIONS for the international-hydropower-association’s (iha) World Congress, now a biennial event, were high within the hydro power community, following the success of IHA’s inaugural World Congress, which was held in Antalya, Turkey, in May 2007. This set the foundation upon which to build the 2009 Congress, highlighting the importance of a collaborative approach to improving hydro power procedures and policy, through consensus building and partnerships.

Two years’ of preparation by the IHA Central Office culminated in the 2009 World Congress, which was convened under the patronage of Iceland’s President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. It brought together over 40 partner organizations and over 250 thought leaders, from some 50 countries.

“In creating a new and more responsible global economic system, the transformation of the energy sector is a crucial priority” said Iceland’s President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, emphasizing his country’s support for the Congress. “Therefore, the discussions and the deliberations at this Congress are more important than ever”.

The theme for the IHA 2009 World Congress was Advancing Sustainable Hydropower, reflecting the Association’s mission statement. “We are within a global financial crisis, coupled with worsening trends associated with climate change, but this simply reflects the need to invest further in hydro power, as it stands at the crossroads of water, energy and climate issues,” said Richard Taylor, IHA Executive Director, presenting the Congress theme. “The role of hydro power as an advanced, renewable, energy brings it to the forefront of global efforts to implement solutions for water management and smarter power systems, as well as in tackling climate change, which hydropower is both affected by, and also serves to mitigate.”

Congress activities and networking opportunities

“The trademark of IHA Congresses is that they are interactive and dynamic and the 2009 Congress certainly lived up to delegates’ expectations,” said Michael Fink, IHA Programme Director. “The Congress was based around plenary sessions and designed to be informative, whilst at the same time challenging current strategies and thinking.” It was also designed from the outset to provide delegates with multiple networking opportunities, so that they could optimise the time spent together at the Congress.

The Congress was preceded by a Networking Tour, which combined visits to geothermal and hydro power projects in Iceland, with the chance to delve into the breathtaking nature of Iceland and its history, and the opportunity to meet fellow Congress participants.

In the evening, following the Networking Tour, delegates were invited to a drinks reception at the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum, a unique igloo-shaped building that was designed and built mostly by Sveinsson himself and housed both the artist’s studio and his home. The reception was hosted by Hon. Katrín Júlíusdóttir, Iceland’s Minister for Energy, Industry and Tourism, and was also the scene of the announcement of IHA’s three new Platinum Sponsors: the hydro-equipment-association (HEA), China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC) and Statkraft.

Congress delegates were also able to take part in other events throughout the week, including a trip to the Blue Lagoon geothermal baths and a whale watching trip. Many delegates also took part in a post-congress tour – a rare opportunity to combine a visit to Iceland’s most recent hydro power project and aluminium smelter, a geothermal power plant and to absorb the dramatic landscape and nature of east and northeast Iceland.

Consultative council meeting

IHA also used the opportunity presented by the Congress to hold a Consultative Council meeting between the Association and more than 60 high-level key figures from industry, NGOs, governments, the United Nations and other international organizations, on 23 June 2009, prior to the actual IHA World Congress.

“The meeting involved discussions on matters and concerns relating to the hydro power industry, and in particularly hydro power policy, as well as providing the IHA Board with an opportunity to consider what policy makers expressed were the challenges facing hydro” said Dr Refaat Abdel-Malek, IHA President. IHA was also able to explain the work programmes and activities that the Association was currently undertaking, to gain feedback and input into future direction from the participants.

The product of the Council Meeting is to be used for the setting of IHA’s two-year work programme, to be finalized by a strategic meeting of the IHA Board in October 2009.

Congress programme and panellists

During the Congress delegates attended sessions on a wide variety of topics, which tackled the critical issues in relation to hydropower development, including water and energy security, climate change and financing development. Impacts on the role of hydro power and other water and energy services were also discussed, and actions specified.

The success of the Congress lies in part with the diversity of the high-level panellists, carefully assembled to address each of the topics within the Congress Programme. Chosen for the diversity of their expertise, perspectives and views, panellists included some of the world’s most influential water, energy and climate thought leaders, including Minister Júlíusdóttir; Hon. Hilary Onek, Uganda’s Minister for Energy and Mineral Development; Hon. Kempheng Pholsena, Lao’s Minister of Water Resources; Hon. Robin Martin Kåss, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, Norway; Dr Marzena Chodor of the European Commission, Dr Joerg Hartmann of the World Wide Fund for Nature; Raghuveer Sharma of the World Bank, and Jeremy Bird of the mekong-river-commission.

The sessions were facilitated to address key questions, so that Congress participants could hear and respond to a breadth of opinion on topics including markets and investment, hydro power development, hydro financing and emerging markets. Experiences from other industries were presented, in relation to the introduction of standards, and special initiatives in the renewables portfolio were also compared.

On Wednesday 24 June, participants gathered for the opening session of the Congress, followed by panel-led sessions on: energy policy; water policy; and on linkages between hydro power and climate change. On Thursday 25 June, delegates participated in panel-led discussions on hydro development, investment and financing models, hydro markets, and a seminar on hydro power and greenhouse gases emissions. On Friday 26 June, participants attended panels on sustainability standards and renewable energy sustainability initiatives, and on specific hydro power sustainability assessment. The Congress concluded with a summary of outcomes, and the General Meeting of the International Hydropower Association, followed by a closing banquet at Reykjavik’s Spectacular Perlan restaurant, hosted by President Grímsson.

At the Banquet, participants were addressed by the President of Iceland on the importance of hydro and the need to invest wisely in all the renewable technologies. He particularly commended IHA’s involvement in the International Renewable Energy Alliance (REN Alliance), bringing together the technologies of bioenergy, geothermal; hydro, solar and wind.

Discussion of important initiatives

The Congress also provided IHA with the opportunity to present the progress made on the development of a number of important initiatives, in particular the work of the UNESCO/IHA Project on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freshwater Reservoirs and the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF).

Hydropower and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Seminar

In the seminar on hydropower and greenhouse gases emissions, which centred on the UNESCO/IHA GHG Research Project, Prof. Dr Luiz Pinguelli Rosa of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, provided an overview of reservoir emission types, including surface fluxes, bubble emissions, degassing and downstream emissions. In the ensuing panel discussions, panellists addressed the process and challenges of measuring methane release from certain reservoirs, including monitoring of concentrations in the water column; the importance of measuring the seasonal variation in emissions, and the benefits of continuous measurement; and the use of models as tools for the assessment of GHG emissions from reservoirs.

On the progress made so far in assessing net GHG emissions, Dr Alain Tremblay of Hydro Québec described the preliminary results of research on hydro power reservoirs in the boreal region. He explained that background emissions are established by comparing the emissions from natural lake ecosystems in the same vicinity with the emissions recorded at a reservoir under study. He explained that his studies showed a rapid return of methane and carbon dioxide emissions to natural levels, during the years after commissioning new reservoirs.

The panellists presented research from around the world, including Brazil, Laos, Norway, and the United States, showing that reservoirs could act as carbon sinks, with sedimentation potentially sequestering more carbon than is emitted by associated GHG emissions; net increases in carbon dioxide emissions tended to be insignificant at the basin scale; and, where elevated methane emissions had been observed at specific reservoirs, a greater understanding of the key parameters was beginning to materialize.. All panellists noted the importance of this research for hydro power development and policy.

Dr Joel Goldenfum, Project Manager of the UNESCO/IHA GHG Research Project, provided an overview of the Project’s progress; explaining its aim of gathering data on emissions from a diverse and representative sample of the world’s reservoirs. “This is an issue currently before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)” said Dr Goldenfum. “It is also the case that the CDM currently excludes certain hydro projects”.

Panellists discussed the UNESCO/IHA Project, and recommended learning from GHG inventory methods employed by other industries, such as forestry, and gathering data from both old and new reservoirs. The effort to standardise the methodology of reservoir GHG measurement was highly commended, and many participants expressed an interest in the forthcoming Field Manual, under preparation by the UNESCO/IHA Project. The need for a communications campaign to counter publications claiming that reservoirs emit copious amounts of GHG emissions was also raised. For further information on the UNESCO/IHA GHG Research Project, see the “Climate Initiatives” section of the IHA website at www.hydropower.org.

Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum Session and Side Event

In the session dedicated to the work of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF), Dr Helen Locher, Forum Coordinator, explained that the Forum is a cross-sectoral collaboration of representatives from developed and developing country governments, social and environmental NGOs, commercial and development banks, and the hydro power sector, that aims to develop a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool to measure and guide performance in the hydro sector. She pointed out that Forum members are jointly reviewing and recommending enhancements to the existing IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol, originally released in 2006.

David Harrison, representing The Nature Conservancy (TNC), outlined his organization’s aspirations for the HSAF, including widespread improvement in the hydro sector, in the consideration of environmental flows, and the use of integrated planning. Kirsten Nyman of GTZ stressed that the main challenge facing the HSAF was to achieve a balance between the dual needs of specificity and broad applicability. Israel Phiri, from the Ministry of Energy and Water Development, Zambia, said he looked forward to the Protocol creating a level playing field, and stressed that it needed to be relevant to Africa.

Describing his aspirations for the Protocol, Andrew Scanlon, Hydro Tasmania (who coordinated the development of the IHA 2006 Protocol), looked forward to a self-sustaining continual improvement process that manages assessment and verification. Michael Simon of Oxfam stressed the need for the involvement of indigenous people and dam-affected people. He also urged delegates to apply and implement the Protocol. Dr Locher outlined the major challenges facing the HSAF, including the need to address complexity and make the Protocol comprehensive, understandable and broadly acceptable.

Discussions among panellists and participants addressed the potential lessons that could be learned from criteria called for in existing directives, integrated water management and strategic environmental assessments; the advantages of a sector-specific, multi-stakeholder-informed, industry-supported standard; the compatibility of the Protocol with other assessment standards; whether the Protocol can help good projects become more timely, in terms of decision making, as well as more sustainable; and whether the use of the tool might be expensive or time consuming.

Delegates and panellists also considered how the Protocol needs to take into account specific basin contexts, including local and national laws and regulatory regimes. Scanlon explained that the HSAF worked to build flexibility for different circumstances into the Protocol and its performance measures, and Nyman said that more input on addressing national contexts in the tool would be helpful. On whether there has been consideration of the transformation of the Protocol into a certification system or process, Scanlon suggested that a possible follow-up activity would be to develop a fully functioning certification scheme.

A side event for the HSAF was also held at the Congress, where delegates had the opportunity to ask more detailed questions about Protocol content, and to obtain information on the consultation and trialling phase that was scheduled to commence soon after the Congress. This consultation and trialling phase (September-November 2009) is now underway and focuses on the content of the Draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol August 2009, and its practical application. Trialling is being encouraged in a number of regions and on a range of hydro power project types and scales. To find out more, visit the Sustainability Initiatives section of the IHA website: http://www.hydropower.org/sustainable_hydropower/HSAF.html.

Congress attendance

Despite a number of factors threatening to reduce attendance at the 2009 Congress, such as the global financial crisis, the effects of which were particularly strong in Iceland, and the Swine Flu outbreak, IHA was delighted with the attendance levels, which were an increase on the 2007 Congress. IHA is now looking towards the future and has already started planning the 2011 IHA World Congress, details of which will be announced later this year.

Richard Taylor believes that the success of the IHA Congresses depends on the continued commitment to reach out to a wide diversity of high-level delegates, not just from within the hydro power sector, but also from government, agencies, financial organisations industry, research institutes, environmental groups and civil society. “The Congresses provide a real opportunity for hydro power leaders to come together with key actors from other backgrounds, to contribute to solving the challenges that lie ahead and to help shape the future strategy for hydro power”.

IHA would like to take this opportunity to thank the World Congress sponsors and partners for their support, without which the Congress could not have taken place, particularly Landsvirkjun, IHA’s strategic Icelandic partner. Details of the Congress sponsors and partners can be found at www.ihacongress.org.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) reported on the Congress proceedings and their Congress reports can be viewed online at www.iisd.ca/ymb/hydro/iha2009/24june.htm

For further information, please contact Philip Smith, Communications Officer, IHA. Tel: (+44) 208 652 5290. Email: ps@hydropower.org. www.hydropower.org.

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