The XFLEX HYDRO project has unveiled a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at enhancing the flexibility, resilience, and security of hydropower systems. The project, supported by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation initiative, underscores the pivotal role of hydropower in facilitating a transition towards renewable energy sources.

XFLEX HYDRO, a project designed to demonstrate hydropower’s strategic role in achieving renewable-based generation in a secure and reliable manner, has published its findings in a detailed report. The report outlines a series of innovative technologies and strategies that can optimize the flexibility potential inherent in existing hydropower infrastructure.

Key among the technological solutions highlighted in the report are variable speed units, hydraulic short circuits, hybridization with battery energy storage systems, and the implementation of a Smart Power Plant Supervisor for real-time optimization. These innovations offer promising avenues for enhancing the adaptability and efficiency of hydropower plants across Europe.

Despite the significant advancements showcased by the project, various barriers impede the widespread adoption of these technologies. To fully exploit the flexibility potential of hydropower, the report emphasizes the need for dedicated energy policies that recognize and incentivize the deployment of these solutions.

The recommendations put forth by the XFLEX HYDRO project are:

  • Recognise and value hydro flexibility as an essential service to the power system to achieve a successful energy transition. As power systems are progressively losing the flexibility provided by non-renewable conventional energy sources, recognising, and valuing the growing necessity for flexibility services is crucial to ensure grid stability and security of supply over the next decades.
  • Remove regulatory barriers for unrestricted implementation and operation of hydro flexibility technologies. To unlock the full potential of existing hydro assets and introduce new technologies, it is essential to eliminate regulatory barriers that limit the adoption of flexibility upgrades or that create discrepancy in the procurement process of flexibility services. For example, in certain countries operating in hydraulic short circuit mode is currently not allowed.
  • ‍Provide remuneration mechanisms enabling investment in flexibility. Existing electricity and ancillary services markets (when available) excel in ensuring that the service required is provided at minimal cost to consumers, but their short-term nature does not provide the long-term revenue visibility required to justify new investment in flexibility technology upgrades.
  • Facilitate cross-border collaboration for efficient exchange of flexibility services. Encouraging international collaboration among European countries is essential for the efficient exchange of hydro flexibility services and expertise. By fostering cross-border connections, countries can share resources and expertise, optimising the utilisation of hydro flexibility on a broader scale.
  • Streamline licensing renewals for optimised hydropower operations. Simplifying the licensing process and accelerating permitting procedures are vital for the operational stability of hydropower projects. This not only reduces uncertainties linked to licence renewals and ownership transfers but also provides a clear and predictable framework in which power companies can operate.
  • Conduct system-level analysis to anticipate and address future flexibility needs. To effectively address future challenges and make sure that electric power systems can deliver a safe energy transition, system-level analyses are essential. These can provide the long-term vision needed to identify and prepare for future flexibility challenges in the most technically efficient, secure, and cost-effective way.
  • Promote support mechanisms for the modernisation of ageing hydropower infrastructure. Financial or tax mechanisms that support the modernisation of ageing infrastructure are essential to secure and enhance the benefits currently provided to society by these plants. These mechanisms should be focused on rewarding modernisation projects that are introducing cutting edge technologies and leading in the adoption of cleaner and more flexible energy solutions.

For further details, the full report can be accessed here.