Viewpoint: Hydropower: A Giant among Its Renewable Energy Peers

By David Appleyard

In the run-up to the vital Conference of the Parties (COP 21) climate change talks taking place in Paris and starting later this month, the UK’s Met Office has issued a report revealing that global temperatures this year are already set to rise by more than 1° C above pre-industrial levels. This is more than half way towards the 2.0° C limit seen as critical in the fight against global warming.

Although there is evidence this average temperature change has been enhanced by this year’s strong El Nino, as Stephen Belcher, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, explains: “It’s clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory.”

The Met Office report comes on the heels of a new ‘Technology Roadmap’ from the Hydro Equipment Association (HEA), which presents the merits of hydro and the services it provides to the energy system.

Hydropower, the world’s leading source of renewable energy, can not only help free a nation from fuel imports but, because it is storable and flexible, can also play a key role in integrating other variable renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, into national electrical grids, says HEA. Indeed, among its recommendations for policy makers, the trade group says that hydropower should be rewarded for the full value of the ancillary services it can provide, for example its fast reaction time or its ability to provide voltage control. Remuneration of these services would improve the business case for new hydro investment, HEA argues.

The report also makes clear that the improvement of computer tools remains a topic of intense research and likely further improvements in efficiency for hydropower techology. Among those areas being modelled are turbulence models; pressure pulsation; rotating stall; and dynamic behaviour and resonance between the various systems.

Perhaps most significant though are the latest estimates for hydropower’s technical potential. Excluding pumped storage, HEA estimates a potential of around 4,400 GW worldwide, of which close to 1,100 GW has been installed to date – leaving some 75% of the total technical potential available for development and still more energy production given projected efficiency improvements.

As the need for a clean energy system for the future becomes steadily more evident, the role that hydropower can play, not just in primary generation but also in facilitating other forms of renewables, becomes ever more clearly defined, as does its vast potential. Hydropower is indeed a giant among its peers. As Dr. Roland Münch, President of HEA, says: “Mature yet modern, proven yet innovative, established yet full of potential, this is hydropower as we know it.”

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

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