Capturing the Rich History of HydroVision

By Elizabeth Ingram

Elizabeth Ingram is managing editor of Hydro Review and conference committee chair of HydroVision International. She has only been attending HydroVision since 2004.

Is there value in attending HydroVision International next month in Minneapolis? Rather than telling you why I think the answer is “Yes!” I decided to survey some influential people in the hydropower industry. An emailed inquiry to current members of our HydroVision International steering and technical paper committees, as well as editorial advisory board members for Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide, revealed a wealth of information and some fun recollections.

More than 25 people responded. So, read this article and I think you will draw your own (favorable) conclusions about HydroVision International.

The first HydroVision was held in 1994 in Phoenix – in August. If you didn’t attend, I can’t blame you (that heat!). As Greg Lewis with Duke Energy said when asked about that event, “It was quite hot … it was 107 degrees one day. Of course, it is a dry heat in the desert, so it really only felt like 106!”

But if you were there, you were in a select group. Of the 23 respondents to this question, six said they attended the inaugural HydroVision in Phoenix. Fifteen did not attend and two said maybe or unsure (it was a relatively long time ago). That first event had about 900 attendees, and HydroVision has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. Last year, in Portland, we had more than 3,600 attendees!

The other five respondents who were there shared some of their memories. Beyond the heat, some remarked on the “bull ride/bucking bronco” (evidently a 55-gallon drum suspended by four heavy ropes) at the social event and the beautiful hotel (with a swimming pool immediately outside some of the rooms). Charles Lipsky, a consultant with USI, remembers: “At that time, I was swimming a mile a day. The pool was so hot I came out looking like a red lobster after swimming a mile.” Rumor has it (and I won’t name who told me) that Linda Church Ciocci with the National Hydropower Association either fell or was pushed into that swimming pool.

History of HydroVision

Those who have worked in hydro for 20 years or more will remember that, before HydroVision, there was a biannual event called Waterpower, held on odd years. HydroVision in 1994 launched a pattern, that lasted until 2011, of having Waterpower on odd years and HydroVision on even years. In late 2008, PennWell Corporation acquired assets of HCI, which had launched HydroVision in 1994 and also organized the Waterpower conference since 2001 (although it was founded in 1979). Shortly after that, in 2009, the final Waterpower was held in Spokane, and from 2010 on HydroVision has been an annual event – the world’s largest conference and exhibition dedicated to the hydroelectric power industry.

With all this history, I wondered how long those survey respondents who didn’t attend in Phoenix had been coming to HydroVision. One started as early as 1996, in Orlando; three joined in 1998 in Reno; two in 2000 in Charlotte; two in 2006 in Portland; two in 2010 in Charlotte; one in Sacramento in 2011; and one in Denver in 2013.

In case this is still confusing chronologically, I should explain that there have been 14 HydroVision events including 1994, with 2016 being our 15th. But there have been a total of 19 annual gatherings in North America (including Waterpower) since 2001. So, when I asked how many HydroVisions our survey respondents had attended over the years, answers ranged from relative newbies at three to one respondent who said all of them and one who said 21 (presumably including several Waterpowers in the mix).

HydroVision has a history of moving around the map. It has been held in many of the larger population centers over the years, all with some proximity to hydropower. So I asked respondents their opinions on the best city in which HydroVision had been held.

Out of 22 responses, Portland was hands down the top choice with eight votes. The event has been held three times in that city, in 2002, 2006 and 2015. Tied for second with three votes each were Denver and Nashville. HydroVision was held in Denver in 2013 and in Nashville in 2014. Next up were Charlotte (2000 and 2010) and Sacramento (2008 and 2011) with two votes each.

Other cities mentioned include Orlando (1996), Reno (1998), Montreal (2004) and Louisville (2012).

Brenna Vaughn with the Hydro Research Foundation shared a great perspective that hopefully helps others see why we enjoy moving the event to different cities. “I think the most unique element of HydroVision is that every city traveled to has something quite unique to it. I thought Nashville’s music, Portland’s downtown, of course Denver’s majestic mountains were incredible. Each year I have had the awesome experience of being able to see a little bit more of this world through both the location and the great international voices that attend the conference, bringing the world to one very cool spot.”

Why you need to attend

Beyond getting to travel to a different “cool” location every year, what is the benefit of attending HydroVision? Our survey respondents said it better than I ever could:

  • Learning from others. Mario Mazza with Ontario Power Generation said, “We operate and maintain hydro plants. It is good to learn from others and see what they are doing to improve the assets.” Other respondents echoed this in raising the value of the conference content, as well as the knowledge of the other attendees.
  • Staying current. From policy issues to new technologies and everything in between, the 70 conference sessions spread over three days are an invaluable opportunity to keep abreast of advances, changes in thought, and more from the global hydro community.
  • Networking and making contacts. That bears repeating. Networking. Every year at HydroVision reminds me of the lyrics of the Girl Scout song: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
  • Interacting with clients. This is important for the exhibitors, both making connections with existing clients and getting an opportunity to meet potential future clients.
  • Finding companies that can perform needed work. The flip side of the point made directly above. With more than 350 exhibitors at HydroVision in 2015, there was a plethora of potential talent to do whatever needs done at hydro facilities worldwide. In fact, consultant Lee Sheldon said, “I tend to spend most of my time in the exhibit hall talking with each exhibitor to learn about anything that is new.”
  • The size of it all. As Michael Murphy with TRC said, “It is the single biggest hydro event that brings together the world’s foremost hydropower experts.” And I want to emphasize that. We don’t call this the world’s largest hydropower industry gathering for nothing. It’s the truth, and just being there and seeing it all really brings home the vibrancy and excitement in the hydropower market today.

Del Shannon with ASI summed it up nicely: “It’s the best place to become involved in the industry. It has the people, the projects (old and new), the technologies and the opportunities for anyone to find their niche.”

As you saw in the answer to an earlier question, people don’t just come to HydroVision one time. They keep coming back. Why?

Networking opportunities were cited by nearly three-fourths of the survey respondents. This event features so many hydropower industry professionals – more than 3,000 – under one roof for as long as five days. As I said above, friendships are made, and renewed, every year. Bill Newman with GE said it best: “HydroVision is one of the few conferences that feels like family. Everyone is there specifically for the hydro Industry and many remain in the hydro industry.”

A close second to networking was the valuable, high-quality learning opportunities, through the diverse conference sessions and the co-located workshops and seminars, as well as on the exhibit floor. “The technical content is great to keep me up to speed with changes, trends and advances in the industry,” said Todd Briggeman with Black & Veatch.

Many others cited the ability to conduct business, meet new clients and find potential product and service providers.

We keep it fun

One thing I think anybody who has attended HydroVision will tell you is – it’s a fun event. After all, you’re more likely to learn if you’re also enjoying yourself, right? I asked for, and received, many amusing anecdotes from past events. I can’t share them all here, but I want to give you some highlights:

“When we exhibited in Portland in 2015, we were able to rent a piece of the original carpet from the Portland airport, which has been selling at outrageous prices in the form of used carpet, t-shirts with the same logo, beer growlers, etc.,” said Jan Lee with the Northwest Hydroelectric Association.

Recalls Justin Niedzialek with HDR Engineering: “My highlight from [2015] was the ability to meet with a key equipment vendor to receive a customized presentation on the latest in their new technology that at the time could have provided a key benefit for a client. Having all the experts from all parties in one place was a great benefit. Although I have to say that can’t top being fortunate enough (and a little lucky) to win the Mavel foosball table and the inaugural Turbine Runner 5k in 2014.”

In addition, I received many recollections about how fun it was to be involved in the effort to educate attendees at HydroVision:

“I managed the Natural Resources Stewardship content for the Waterpower Hydro Basics course for three years,” says Ginger Gillin with GEI. “That was a fun activity.”

Tom Brittain with Black & Veatch has a good story: “A paper I presented on modernizing lubricating oil was well-received. Almost 10 years later, I was called out by name at an In-N-Out Burger by someone I had spoken to after that presentation. He remembered the presentation, which was of use to him, and he remembered me as the presenter. Content and people at the conferences matter, and it’s been great being a small part of the dynamic conferences.”

And there were those who call out educational, and career, opportunities resulting from attending HydroVision:

“It was amazing to see that there is no spillway in most dams in California,” said James Yang with Vattenfall.

Doug Dixon with EPRI recalls, “The thing that comes most immediately to mind was the first time HydroVision was in Portland and I got to see several of the Columbia River Projects and fishways.”

“HydroVision played a huge role with respect to a recent job change,” said Tim Welch with the U.S. Department of Energy. “Knowing that I was looking for something new and challenging in the hydropower field, HydroVision was a convenient venue for leveraging long-standing relationships and networking with potential future employers. I was able to express my interest in new employment at HydroVision and that led directly to my current position.”

Finally, I asked people what were the most fun things they had done at HydroVision or their favorite thing to do or see while attending.

Out of 21 responses, eight said it was the exhibits/trade show. They were equally split, at three votes each, for the technical plant tours, panel presentation sessions, technical paper sessions, networking to renew acquaintances (on the exhibit floor, at parties or over a meal), and see local sights. One said the Turbine Runner 5K (new in 2014) was a favorite and another cited the keynote address. (Multiple responses were allowed for this question.)

You know an event is memorable when attendees can still recall it years later. Kevin Young with Young Energy Services is a great example of this. His response: “I loved Nascar in Charlotte and the Great Northwest in Portland, and as an American/Canadian I did like Montreal and the Cirque du Soleil.”

For a conclusion, I turn to John Etzel with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “I have been attending HydroVision every year since 2005. I find each year to be more fulfilling than the year before it, often like a chain reaction that invigorates and energizes those who work in the industry. The conference brings those working in the hydropower and energy community together to a single location and time. This collection of professionals provides for the makings of the most valuable week of the year for many of us to be able to celebrate our successes, share our challenges, collaborate on new ways to advance the industry, and build on our relationships.

“Each city in which HydroVision was held has brought its own uniqueness to the conference. I recall the fresh summer breezes in Spokane, the rains in Charlotte, and the sun in Sacramento. There is also that familiarity we have all come to expect: the opportunity to share information and learn from others who are professionally committed to the same goal of being leaders in hydropower and energy and providing contributions to society and the technical community at the highest levels possible. I look forward to future opportunities to celebrate and share with the numerous teams of professionals who attend HydroVision.”

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