Selecting Sustainability for Hydropower Designs

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

The hydropower industry has expended tremendous effort to ensure that new projects are developed with environmental and social sustainability in mind. Rightly so. Sustainability lies at the heart of the design and development of hydropower today, and this effort is widely recognized as a difficult and on-going transition that is essential to the survival of the industry.

But sustainability should not just consider environmental and social impacts; true sustainability should also mean that hydropower installations are designed and built for the maximum possible operational lifespan. One of the fundamentals of hydropower is that, once constructed, such a project can generate power for a century or even more where electromechanical equipment is refurbished or replaced. However, there have been a number of recent examples of projects that have apparently lasted far less time than their design life as a result of poor construction techniques, substandard materials or the choice of a sub-optimal design.

For example, changes made to the design of Zimbabwe’s Tokwe-Mukosi Dam more than a decade ago could have contributed to the displacement of thousands of families earlier this year after water began leaking through cracks in the dam’s walls. Local media reports suggest a lower cost alternative dam design was chosen against engineering advice. Tragically, this development is far from unique, and there are numerous examples of projects that require premature refurbishment or redesign, and this inevitably comes at a considerable cost to owners and operators.

Of course, it is not always the case that incentives are in place to maximize design life, but it is essential that dam designers and project engineers do all they can to ensure hydropower developments deliver the maximum possible volume of energy over their life; to do anything less is a fundamental disservice to the industry.

Using magazines to make the right decision

It seems that high-quality, concise and business-focused print or digital magazines are the top source of information for decision making in the global hydropower industry, according to a recent study into the demographic make-up of those working in the sector.

This study, by PennWell’s Hydro Group, is based on the readers of HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide and our sister publication Hydro Review, as well as those visiting or attending HydroVision events in the USA, Brazil, Russia and India.

Based on these demographics, nearly 80% of those surveyed have more than 10 years of hydro industry-specific experience and have major responsibilities across the spread of hydropower projects and companies.

It is also clear that the need for technical and industry information is high on the list of priorities, which along with reports on specific topics are indicated as significant drivers by well over half of all respondents.

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