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4 Reasons Why Upgrading Hydropower Plants is a Big Deal Today

image credit: Upgrading Hydropower Plants is a Big Deal Today
Rauf Fattakh's picture
Managing Director & Co-founder Prospero Events Group

Helping decision-makers in the European energy industry benchmark best practices by organizing peer-to-peer conferences since 2007.

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  • Oct 22, 2020
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Hydropower has been around since ancient times. It is the oldest form of renewable energy. And it remains as an attractive power source for further investments today because of being cheap, flexible, and clean. By 2030 over half of the world's hydropower plants will be due for an upgrade or need modernization.

Pain points in modernization decision-making

Hydropower assets will become too tired to operate if almost all its pieces will not be upgraded or replaced in the nearest future. To justify investments you should look at upgrading hydropower plants, turbines, and equipment as part of a larger advancing energy transition.

As rehabilitation seems unavoidable the decision to modernize hydropower plants doesn't come naturally alas. You need to justify and communicate to the management the need by giving new arguments about enhancing plant availability factor and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. As part of debates, collective or ultimate decision-makers challenge you with objections such as:

  • current capital constraints;
  • compensation against other competing projects;
  • other immediate maintenance needs.

What’s changing?

Hydropower plant upgrading decisions are not made automatically. Because hydropower is a mature sphere with established technologies. Humankind has had enough time to harness the power of falling or running water. We have exploited the best and cheapest hydropower sites already.

Until very recently hydropower domain deemed of not having big enough scope for cost reduction in the short-medium term. You hoped that progress in civil engineering will broaden the return on upgrading investments. 

 

Today digital-led modernization has the potential to deliver a 5%-15% reduction in lost production.

 

Thankfully, awesome technological trends are changing this perception. The emergence of digitalization, AI, data analysis, and ultimate advancement in civil engineering opens extra potential in cost optimization and productivity enhancement. Today digital-led modernization has the potential to deliver a 5%-15% reduction in lost production. Now that makes your CFO make up his/her mind faster.

Furthermore, your CEO will welcome the early adoption of digital twins to optimize decisions and to mitigate risks before investing in modernization. If the matter gets stuck about contributions towards safety, which is paramount in hydropower plants for everyone - then you can bring to the table the application of digital twin in dam's safety programs. Assuring people’s safety through implementing digital twin is the cherry on top of the digital cake.

Digital control systems effect

As of 2018 more than 68% of started digitize globally their hydropower assets, while 66% expect further digitization in the coming 10 years. In hydropower's digital revolution the central trend is brilliant control systems.

Hydropower plants have a lasting life-cycle, so you need to make sure to choose the right system to avoid the need for further amendments. Modern digital control systems enable:

  • automation data exchange with various data systems;
  • cost reduction;
  • asset management optimization;
  • improvement in asset performance.

Role of hydropower in the energy mix

Hydropower represents the world's largest (58%) renewable energy installed capacity of 1300 GW. It contributes to two-thirds of the electricity generated from renewable sources. 

Hydropower's contribution to the global energy mix.

While making long-term investment decisions you should be looking at the bigger picture of how hydropower gets along with other renewable energy technologies. In the context of the energy transition. Several synergies will impact the way hydropower is observed. There are mainly 2 trends in integrating hydropower with other renewable energy technologies today:

  • Pumped storage hydro (PSH) dedicated to enhancing grid stability and back increased portion of wind and solar energy in the system;
  • ''Hybrid plant'' because of integrating hydro, solar, and wind.

Thanks for being cheap, flexible, and clean hydropower will be complementing the future energy mix. Present aging assets makes you think hard about how to assure safe, cost-effective, and smooth O&M at your hydropower plant. Today you can decide to upgrade the plants easily because hydropower:

  • is a clean energy source;
  • assets are outdated;
  • has considerable cost reductions potential due to trending digital solutions;
  • can be integrated with other renewable energy technologies.

P.S.

Yes, COVID is around currently. But I couldn't think of any plausible obstacles caused by the pandemic that offset the benefits of upgrading the hydropower plant. It’s time! Investing still makes sense despite gloomy macro-economic scenarios. Have I missed anything? 

Rauf Fattakh's picture
Thank Rauf for the Post!
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