5 trends in hydropower for 2019


By Elizabeth Ingram

The end of the year is the perfect opportunity to look back, to reflect on what has passed, before the new year when we naturally focus on the future.

As I reflect on the news and issues we’ve covered on Hydro Review over the past year, I can identify five big trends I’ve noticed for the global hydroelectric power industry in 2019. They are:

A stronger focus on climate change, and solutions

Climate issues were huge this year, and not just because of Greta Thunberg. The hydropower industry has been keeping a weather eye on changing climate patterns for decades. But this year, many companies decided to step up and make significant commitments to changing their practices to help deal with some concerning trends.

Just two recent examples of this focus are Icelandic utility Landsvirkjun and technology company Voith. Landsvirkjun recently announced a plan to become carbon neutral by 2025, five years sooner than it originally proposed. Landsvirkjun operates 18 power stations and generates three-fourths of this energy form hydroelectric power, geothermal energy and wind. And Voith — the parent company of Voith Hydro — said that from 2022 onwards, none of its locations around the world will leave a carbon footprint. Voith is switching to purchasing carbon-neutral electricity in the near future and offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions with compensation measures.

More investment in hydro

This trend combines banks providing financing for hydro and companies buying hydropower assets worldwide.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) very recently approved €8.1 billion (US$9 billion) in financing for climate action, sustainable development, health and education investment across Europe and around the world. This includes support for renewable energy projects, such as hydro. Additionally, the Inter-American Development Bank has placed the planned modernization of the 300-MW Francisco Morazan (also known as El Cajon) hydroelectric complex in its pipeline for possible financing.

And Nexif Energy has acquired 94% of the equity of the Song Giang Hydropower JSC, a company that owns two cascading run-of-river hydropower projects with a total capacity of 49 MW in the Khanh Hoa province of Vietnam. In the U.S., H2O Power and TCorp have completed a transaction in which TCorp will acquire an interest in H2O Power’s eight Canadian hydroelectric generating assets.

Small hydro

This is definitely an ongoing trend, rather than a new one for 2019.

In the first half of December alone, we reported on financial completion for a 15-MW hydro plant in the Solomon Islands, opening of a small hydro plant in Lao PDR, and a permit issued to study development of a new small hydro project in the U.S.

This activity is just the tip of the iceberg, with many countries — such as Ecuador and Ghana — looking into the development of multiple small hydro projects. And Latin America and the Caribbean has a goal of reaching at least 70% of renewable energy, which includes small hydro, in electricity by 2030.

Technology innovations

This has been a fun year, learning about so many new and unique technologies or fun applications of existing technologies to hydropower. Just last week, I reported on a $40 million funding opportunity from the U.S. Department of Energy that includes innovation and technology transfer, with a focus on small businesses. And earlier this month I learned about research at NASA that revealed using data from satellites can save emergency responders an average of 9 minutes per emergency response, with this technology tested using the 2018 failure of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam in Laos.

The above two example are just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the Technology/Equipment tab on Hydro Review for even more. And keep your eyes open on HydroEvent.com, and on this page, for information about the exciting Initiate! program we will be unveiling at HYDROVISION International 2020. Initiate! is a program where startup companies are chosen by a committee to come pitch their solution/product to a panel of experts. Think Shark Tank. More details to come.

Dam and powerhouse rehab

Seismic issues around dams continue to be a concern, but that’s not the only type of rehabilitation work happening in the industry, with many utilities rehabilitating their powerplant equipment.

Keeping dams safe is never going to lessen in importance, and infrastructure is aging. Knowing this, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources announced plans to upgrade the B.F. Sisk Dam for seismic safety. In the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., Nicholson Construction recently was named general contractor by Grant County Public Utility District for remedial foundation drain work on its Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. Nicholson will recondition foundation drains on both dams, which may be experiencing reduced flows or blocking by unknown materials or foreign objects, including calcium carbonate deposits.

Recent powerplant rehabilitation work announced includes Copel’s plan to upgrade its 1,240-MW Governador José Richa hydropower plant in the state of Paranà¡ in Brazil and a recent agreement to modernize aging equipment and improve power generation capacity at the 180-MW Uch-Kurgan hydropower plant in the Kyrgyz Republic. The latter will increase the plant’s generating capacity by 20%

What trends have you noticed? Is there something I’ve missed that we should be covering? Email me at elizabeth.ingram@clarionevents.com.

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