Viewpoint: Scaling Hydropower Development for Success from Mega to Micro

By David Appleyard

Scaling hydropower development for success from mega to micro Two recent news items have highlighted the breadth of hydropower development and its role in supporting clean and sustainable energy.

In late December 2014, owners of the Three Gorges project on the Yangtze River revealed that it had broken the world record for annual hydroelectric power production.

More than a decade after it became the world’s largest power plant, at more than 22 GW of installed capacity, China Three Gorges Corp. reported that annual electricity production had reached close to 100 TWh in 2014.

This figure exceeds that of the 2013 record holder, the world’s second largest hydropower installation, that at Itaipu on the Parana river on the Brazil-Paraguay border with its 14 GW of capacity.

Indeed, the two projects have traded places for the record holder for annual electricity production several times in recent years, with Three Gorges establishing a record high of 98.1 TWh in 2012, before Itaipu took the crown in 2013 with 98.63 TWh.

By any reckoning these production figures are prodigious and although the Three Gorges project is not without controversy, it must be recognized that the 2014 output from this single installation was equivalent to burning some 29 million tonnes of coal in a thermal plant, according to the company. Consequently, its owners suggest the project has prevented around 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere. Furthermore, CTG controls a total of 45,495 MW of large hydro, making it a major contributor in addressing China’s burgeoning environmental problems.

The second revelation comes in at the polar opposite of scale. Lucid Energy, along with the Portland Water Bureau (PWB), has announced that operations have begun at the Portland LucidPipe Power System project in Portland, Oregon, in the USA.

Using the gravity-fed flow of water inside a PWB pipeline to spin four 42 inch turbines, each of which has a capacity of up to 100 kW, this energy is sold to Portland General Electric (PGE) under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA).

Installed at no cost to PWB or the city of Portland, the system is apparently the first in-pipe hydropower in a municipal water line in the USA to secure a PPA.

“The Water Bureau welcomed the opportunity to explore the innovative use of a Portland pipe delivering water to create hydroelectric power as well,” said Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff, adding: “Water and energy are closely linked.”

Financed with capital from a subsidiary of Harbourton Enterprises, the project will generate approximately US$2 million worth of power over the duration of the PPA.

Of course, such a project’s power contribution is just a fraction of that of the Three Gorges project, but there is nonetheless a common theme. Gregg Semler, president and chief executive officer of Lucid Energy Inc., puts it succinctly when he says: “Water agencies are looking for ways to be more energy efficient, energy utilities are seeking more renewable sources of energy and investors are seeking opportunities in smart water and energy infrastructure.”

And these two seemingly entirely disparate developments have at least one other thing in common — generating energy from water in an efficient and clean way.

This theme, uniting two radically different projects half a world apart, amply illustrates both the ability of hydropower to change people’s lives and make a real difference to global challenges such as climate change and also the diverse ways in which this resource can be used for the benefit of society and the economy. It is no longer oil that may be accurately described as liquid gold, but – developed sustainably and intelligently – this soubriquet surely belongs to the Earth’s water.

Indeed, HRW – Hydro Review Worldwide has a number of opportunities to join with you in celebrating this diversity in applications in the coming months. For example, the whole of the HydroWorld.com team will be in Portland, Oregon, USA, this coming July for the HydroVision International event, bringing hydropower experts and exhibitors right across the breadth of the hydro industry and showing just how much this sector has to offer the world. Portland is of course also home to this latest LucidPipe system.

We’re also very much looking forward to seeing you all in Beijing in May for the International Hydropower Association’s World Hydropower Congress. This takes place May 19-21 in China, as we know home to the world’s largest operating hydropower installation and what may be a record breaking project next year too. HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide is an official partner of the IHA World Hydropower Congress.

It’s a small world when it comes to hydropower, but then the dreams are big.

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

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