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Hydropower Dissemination Event: “Hydropower, a catalyst for the energy transition in Europe”

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The theme of this year's SHF HydroES 2021 was "Hydropower, a catalyst for the energy transition in Europe". This theme summarises the vision that the HYDROPOWER EUROPE forum has been promoting since 2018. It was the occasion for the forum to present its vision, on the first day of the meetings, September 22, 2021, to an audience of about a hundred people, thirty of whom were in the room and the rest online. This day was part of the events accompanying the European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW 2021). It was divided into four sessions presenting successively the context and its challenges, the deliverables after 2.5 years of consultation: the Research and Innovation Programme (RIA) and the Strategic Roadmap for Industry (SIR) and finally, the perspectives.

SESSION 1: Current challenges for hydropower in Europe

Chair: Patrick Clerens (EASE) 

1.1 Hydropower R&I objectives and tenders: the European perspective

Thomas Schleker (European Commission) 

Mr Schleker, European Commissioner for Research, underlines the importance of innovative technologies to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement through economically viable and sustainable hydropower: digitalisation, flexibility, modernisation and ecological continuity. The number of calls for projects for hydropower has been increased from 10 to 40 million Euros from FP7 to H2020 SC3.  In the future, the strategy is to support the sector's long-term innovation efforts to address a wide range of challenges. To name but a few: the pursuit of research and industry value chains and the need for global cooperation on sustainable development.

After presenting the Horizon Europe framework programme (2021-2027), he said that the calls for projects of interest to the sector are in domain 3 (energy) of cluster 5 (CL5-D3).  They involve firstly equipment for hidden hydropower (HORIZON-CL5-2021-D3-03-11), digitalisation of power plants (HORIZON-CL5-2022-D3-03-08) and then digitalisation of hybridisation, modelling of energy systems and innovations in storage, in its integration into the grid or in off-grid applications.

1.2 Current situation and development potential of hydropower in Europe

Anton Schleiss (ICOLD/EPFL)

Professor Anton Schleiss recalled that for more than a century Europe has developed on the basis of the many benefits of hydropower.  Europe currently uses two thirds of its economically viable potential, with significant regional disparity. Almost half of the hydropower production comes from the Nordic countries and one third from the Alpine countries. 

The Mediterranean and Eastern European countries, on the other hand, have a higher proportion of potential to be equipped and dispose 40% of the capacity under construction. Elsewhere, investment has been severely limited for a decade because hydropower has been triply penalised by overproduction, low CO2 prices and market distortion due to the priority purchase of other renewable energies. Recent market developments with rising energy prices give hope for better conditions for hydropower. 

To this disregarding, Professor Schleiss proposes a vision that puts hydropower back at the centre of the energy transition through its capacities to increase (1) production flexibility, (2) long-term storage, (3) innovative pumped storage solutions and (4) production through multi-purpose schemes and "hidden" hydropower, of which he draws up a catalogue of solutions. Quaranta et al (2021), with contributions from Professor Schleiss, estimate that renewing existing hydropower schemes would increase Europe's 2020 generation by 12% and by 29 TWh by interconnecting reservoirs. 

Regarding new projects, he cites several examples waiting to be completed in Switzerland: large reservoirs taking advantage of glacial retreat, such as the Trift dam in the Bernese Alps, and the multi-purpose Synergie project on the upper Rhône. The success of these projects lies in the application of a scientific methodology of a multidisciplinary approach to complex systems aiming at a win-win solution for all stakeholders. He concludes that hydropower not only has the potential to be a catalyst for the energy transition in Europe, but also worldwide.

1.3 Why is hydropower essential to the Energy Transition?

Alex Campbell (IHA)

Alex Campbell, Head of Research and Policy at IHA, was clear: "we need to decarbonise electricity if we are to stop climate change". 850 GW of hydropower are expected in the IRENA scenario to limit warming below 2°C in 2050 and 1200 GW to limit it below 1.5°C. The problem is that the IHA only counts 548 GW of planned projects, while even 850 GW are needed to reach the target < 2.0°C: 300 GW are therefore missing! A small part is to be found in the large retrofit capacity of the 600 GW installed since more than 30 years. Apart from the necessary new projects, another part will come from flexibility, as hydropower is "the largest source of flexible electricity generation" with 1730 TWh or 17% of the world's production and a 1.6% increase in installed capacity in 2020.

SESSION 2: Research and Development needs: the Research & Innovation Agenda (RIA)

Chair: Mark Morris (ICOLD / SAMUI) 

2.1 Hydropower in Europe in a complex environment: a complex system analysis approach

Anton Schleiss (ICOLD / EPFL)

Professor Anton Schleiss, with his extensive experience in the hydropower sector, describes the complex system analysis applied to hydropower that he initiated and supervised at EPFL.  The methodology developed by Peter Gómez; Gilbert J. B. Probst (1999) is an essential guide to understanding how a wide range of factors can interact to affect hydropower development. First, it lists all the elements that are related to hydropower: 103 factors are extracted from the first consultation and represent 7 areas (technical, economic, commercial, regulatory, R&D, environmental and climatic) influencing hydropower. 

The next step is to establish the reinforcing or diminishing causal links between all these factors. The analysis consists of building a matrix that measures the activity of each factor by the total number of influences it exerts, and its dependence by the total number of influences it undergoes. It appears that two factors are critical for the future of hydropower because they are context-dependent: public awareness of hydropower and the share of intermittent renewable energy. 

On the other hand, communication, reservoir volume and environmental remediation are the most active factors that can be used as a lever to improve the situation of hydropower. A. Schleiss then verifies that the research directions of the IAM are leveraging the active factors and that the active factors not integrated in the IAM are indeed driving strategic actions of the ITS. 

2.2 Methodology for prioritising research topics and strategic actions and for general stakeholder consultation

Dr. Mario Bachhiesl (VGB) and Patrick Clerens (EASE)

Patrick Clerens, Secretary General of EASE in charge of consultation within the project and Mario Bachhiesl, Director of the Renewable Energy and Distributed Generation Department of VGB in charge of prioritisation, explain the organisation established to mobilise the sector and shape its needs. HYDROPOWER EUROPE has accomplished three tasks: (1) to bring together all value chain actors in a forum, (2) to analyse and prioritise their needs and (3) to extract two deliverables, the RIA and the SIR. The RIA recommends innovation pathways, and the SIR recommends strategic actions to address the challenges of hydropower. 

Around 600 people signed up on the consultation platform on the website www.hydropower-europe  to participate in the forum. The needs analysis resulted in three successively refined versions of the IAM and CRS over two years. Each round of general consultation includes the survey of all stakeholders and its collation, an analysis of the responses and validation of priorities by a panel of experts (CEP) and ends with the drafting of a new version and its evaluation by the CEP. 

The PEC has 34 members from all sectors of the value chain. The first round of general consultation was based on three regional symposia: 50 people in Lulea (Sweden) for the Nordic countries, 70 people in Lausanne (Switzerland) for the Alpine countries and 30 people in Chania for the Mediterranean countries to identify regional specificities and to carry out a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis and an online survey to identify and describe issues of concern. The second round surveyed 150 research topics and 40 strategic actions. 145 responses were tabulated. The results were evaluated in two CDW workshops.

The results have been integrated into the current version of the IAM and the CRS. In conclusion, this first major European consultation has addressed all the major challenges, signalled the strategic importance of hydropower and prepared the future. The RIA and the SIR are tools for monitoring all hydropower developments. "We need to keep them alive so that more research can be done in the future," said Clerens.

2.3 The European Hydropower Research and Innovation Agenda

Ingo Ball (WIP Renewable Energies)

Ingo Ball, a contributor to the RIA, emphasised that hydropower in Europe faces a large number of challenges and that to meet these environmental, societal, technological and commercial challenges, new approaches are needed. Europe's desire to decarbonise energy is a unique opportunity for hydropower to redeploy itself, provided it develops more flexibility and social and environmental acceptability. 

For this reason, the HYDROPOWR-EUROPE forum was created to gather the needs for innovation in the RIA, to address the challenges with the SIR and to disseminate these two deliverables. 

Finally, 7 themes, 18 headings (Table 1) and 80 R&I topics were selected, with their desired priority levels, timeframe, TRL budget, following the extensive consultation and prioritisation described above. They are not only limited to technological issues, but address most of the objectives of the European Green Deal initiative and are well in line with the results of the global analysis presented by Prof. Schleiss.

Table 1: Themes and headings for hydropower to be funded according to the consultation (MH-H: medium important to important; H: important; H-VH: important to very important; VH: very important)

Hydropower is the world's leading source of renewable electricity generation. Its sustainable growth potential will be based on:

  •  run-of-river plants that will be crossed by fish and sediment,   
  • closed-cycle WWTPs,  
  •  increasing the volume of existing reservoirs by raising dams 
  • increasing digitalisation to make hydropower more efficient, cheaper and environmentally friendly, 
  • hybrid solutions using wind or solar power and hydrogen, 
  •  new multi-use reservoirs for climate mitigation, resulting from synergies and trade-offs between environmental and socio-economic constraints. 

Hydropower is essential and strategic:

  •  it contributes to decarbonising electricity and mitigating climate change,
  •  It allows the integration of variable renewable energy sources,
  •  it provides important ancillary services to the grid,
  • it contributes to the NEXUS (water, food, energy) approach and to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

2.4 Progress of low head hydropower in the ALPHEUS project

Antonio Jarquin Laguna (TU Delft)

Dr. Antonio Jarquin Laguna, coordinator of the H2020 ALPHEUS project, gave a presentation. With a budget of 4 M€ over 4 years until 2024, it aims to make low to very low head WWTPs profitable in shallow seas and flat geographical areas of less than 20 metres. The concept is based on 10 MW pump-turbines, with an efficiency between 70 and 80%, with 8 blades at 50 rpm or 7 blades at 45 rpm, equipped with PMSM synchronous motor (WP 2-3). The development is done first by numerical modelling, then physical modelling (30 cm and 50 kW prototype of WP4) and finally ichtyological modelling on site. The civil engineering structures are dealt with in WP5 and the connection to the grid and the economic valorisation are dealt with in WP6.

SESSION 3: Supporting the industry: the Strategic Industry Roadmap (SIR)

Chair: Anton Schleiss (ICOLD / EPFL) 

3.1 Flexibility in power systems

Jean Louis Drommi (EDF)

Jean-Louis Drommi, expert from EDF and the European XFLEX Hydro project, recalled the definition of flexibility by CEER (2018): the ability of the power system to respond to changes that may affect the balance between supply and demand at any time". It should be remembered that flexibility has two components: commercial demand and technical supply. It has two dimensions: temporal (from the millisecond to the year) and spatial (from the island or region to the continent). 

In order for the European grid to absorb 27% of renewable energies in 2030 and 64% by 2050 without any quality degradation, hydropower must increase the number of innovative flexibility solutions. The XFLEX project is carrying out six full-scale experiments to demonstrate the feasibility and profitability of these solutions by mid-2023:

  • Z'Mutt (Grande Dixence) replaces 1 of the 5 constant speed pumps with another one with variable speed;
  •  Frades 2 proposes a continuous power range +/-800 MW (hydraulic short-circuit) and synthetic inertia services;
  • Grand Maison modulates the pumping power by a new operating mode with hydraulic short circuit between pump and Pelton;
  •  Alqueva I-II extends its power range with part-load operation including hydraulic flare and hydraulic short circuit (+/-100%);
  •   Alto Lindoso improves turbine performance and flexibility through hydraulic short-circuiting;
  •  Vogelgrün couples a battery to Kaplans to limit their fatigue and improve the dynamic response to primary frequency/power service.

3.2 Opportunities for small hydro offered by the European Green Pact

Dirk Hendricks (EREF)

Dirk Hendricks, Secretary General of EREF, represents not only 19 national associations, 22,000 plants, but also 4,500 companies and 60,000 workers who are world leaders in the sector. He underlined the development potential of kinetic and very low head turbines and "hidden" hydro. He explains how small hydropower (SH) plays a much more important role than just power generation. Its contribution to flexibility (maintaining local frequency and voltage), and security (reserve and blackout protection) reduces costs (it has saved the German grid €1 billion). It cushions the effects of climate change (supply in case of drought, protection against floods, etc.). 

Despite its advantages, SH faces two challenges that are holding back investment: the contradictions between European energy and environmental policies and the environmental impact. Not only has the SH spent several billion Euros and developed new turbines reducing fish mortality to 0.1% to improve the ecological continuity of rivers, but it also brings environmental benefits: creation of additional habitats, cleaning of rivers of floating bodies, enrichment of water in oxygen. Finally, several actions are desired from politicians:

  • promote SH as an important component of the renewable energy mix;
  • Establish European and national development targets up to 2050; 
  • harmonise the notion of sustainability of energy and environmental policies;
  •  integrate SH as a component and solution of water management policies;
  • base environmental policies on more site-specific scientific assessments and cost-benefit analyses;
  •  develop support mechanisms for multi-purpose developments and network services.
  •  fund R&I by European industry to maintain its global leadership.

3.3 The strategic roadmap for the hydropower industry

Jean-Jacques Fry (ICOLD, EurCOLD)

Jean-Jacques Fry, the main contributor to the Roadmap, introduced the Roadmap by setting the context: Hydropower was the renewable energy on which Europe was built in the 20th century. In the 21st century, the WCD, the European Water Framework Directive (EWFD) and the IPBES warned about the environmental footprint. In 2018, the European Union is committed to the Energy Transition and is mobilising hydropower through a call for tenders to integrate the growing share of intermittent energy in the future electricity system. 

The HYDROPOWER EUROPE project is selected. It brings together only international associations in order to be in contact with the largest number of actors. Four barriers to the deployment of hydropower were identified in the bid: the rejection of certain projects, the gap between stakeholders, environmental concerns and investment barriers. The roadmap must find ways to address these four challenges. It must also convince society and politicians of our vision, i.e. that hydropower is the catalyst for the Energy Transition. 

The first version resulting from the offer and a first computer survey is enriched by the SWOT analyses of the regional conferences and consolidated by the global analysis described by A. Schleiss. From this, 40 strategic actions are extracted and put to the vote in the second consultation. The CEP validates or reassesses the priorities that emerge. It is interesting to note the coherence of the consultations, since 95% of the strategic actions of the first consultation are considered of high priority in the second. The three highest priority actions for the profession are (1) improve the flexibility market, (2) make people understand that there is no security, decentralisation and energy independence without hydropower and (3) review the regulation (CO2 cost, duration of concessions, security, taxes, etc.). The 38 high priority strategic actions can be grouped into three guidelines:

  1. Provide economic and legal support for flexibility and storage through (1) improving flexibility markets, (2) better practices for investing under uncertainty and (3) developing a more relevant regulatory framework.
  2. Preserve biodiversity and enhance river ecosystems through (1) best practice in sustainability and biodiversity protection, (2) improved knowledge of environmental impacts, (3) application of innovative compensation measures and (4) development of holistic approaches that promote synergy and trade-offs.
  3.  Raising public awareness, increasing societal resilience and local employment with (1) raising public awareness through communication and dissemination, (2) developing best practices for sustainability and win-win situations, (3) increasing the security, decentralisation and independence of the European energy system through STEPs and (4) launching a collaborative platform for hydropower.

After a century of silent development, hydropower must make it clear that there can be no Energy Transition without it, because hydropower:

  •  is the renewable energy with the best climate indicators, 
  • has the best energy gain or return on investment factor, 
  •  produces more than all other renewables combined in 2020,
  • provides 90% of the world's flexibility,
  •  avoids the collapse of the local or continental grid (2006, 2019 and 2021),
  •  has many opportunities to develop storage and flexibility, 
  • far from being a competitor, it integrates other energies: without it, flexibility, decentralisation and Europe's energy independence are in question.
  • develops the regions (taxes, jobs, infrastructure and tourism),
  • protects society and biodiversity from climate change (droughts and floods).

We need to communicate more that hydropower is not only a catalyst for the energy transition in Europe but also a pillar of the future carbon-free society.


Chair: Jean-Jacques FRY (ICOLD / EurCOLD) 

4.1 The role of the European Technology and Innovation Platforms in the EU

Greg Arrowsmith (EUREC) and Maria Laura Trifiletti (ZABALA)

Greg Arrowsmith Secretary General of EUREC and Maria Laura coordinator of ETIP SNET are well placed to explain the role and functioning of a European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP). An ETIP is a group of volunteers, who contribute to develop the disruptive technologies of the SET Plan energy policy (Fitfor55 climate objectives), administered by a selected organisation and funded by the EC. The SET Plan (Strategic Energy Technology Plan) is the EC's structure for accelerating the energy transition. The SET Plan wants all technologies to participate, increasing from 10 to 20 ETIPs by 2022. A "Hydro ETIP" will therefore be a transparent and representative tool that will develop the RIA and SIR with more visibility to the EC but also to the Member States.  Note that the organisation receiving the funds has no decision-making power. The SET-Plan and the Steering Committee (SC) share this power: the SET-Plan sets the topics and the SC deals with them. Member States are represented by experts involved either through a mirror group that would encourage the insertion of ETIP recommendations into national policies or within a working group that establishes these recommendations. ETIP SNET is cited as an example of a mission and deliverables. Finally, an ETIP forum has been launched to avoid duplication and optimise applications. 

4.2 The future of the HYDROPOWER EUROPE forum

Mark Morris (ICOLD, UAS)

The HORIZON-CL5-2021-D3-02-15 call for proposals is awaiting a proposal from ETIP Hydro, whose funding would end in 2025. Mark Morris, founder of Samui, with 20 years of experience in running European and international projects, proposes a business model that would ensure permanent funding from industry. The terms of reference for the future of the forum are: to meet both the needs of industry and the energy transition, to follow RIA & SIR and to avoid duplicating other organisations. 

This requires a double mutation, (1) EC funded ETIP Hydro and (2) Industry funded ETIP Hydro and therefore a double action: (1) traditional ETIP activities and (2) carrying out collaborative projects and strategic actions for the industry. The concept is to detect, shape and monitor these projects and actions requested by industry. 

Three levels of projects would be financed: small projects involving only a few members, utility actions (R&I, communication) financed by the sector, European or international projects financed by European, national or international funds. The economic model would be established from 2022 to 2024 and finalised from 2024 to 2025.



Professor Anton Schleiss concluded the day with three main points:

  1.  Hydropower still has great potential and room for development that must be achieved, otherwise hydropower will not be the catalyst for the energy transition.
  2. The hydropower sector also needs strategic actions, in terms of recommendations not only to the European Commission, but also to the whole industry, to make it known that hydropower is essential to the energy transition.
  3. The industry needs to unite its forces to speak with a permanent voice in Europe, which will have repercussions at the global level, as European hydropower companies work all over the world.


Emanuele Quaranta, George Aggidis, Robert M. Boes, Claudio Comoglio, Carlo De Michele, Epari Ritesh Patro, Evgeniia Georgievskaia, Atle Harby, Ioannis Kougias, Sebastian Muntean, Juan Pérez-Díaz, Pedro Romero-Gomez, Marco Rosa-Clot, Anton J. Schleiss, Elena Vagnoni, Markus Wirth, Alberto Pistocchi (2021). Assessing the energy potential of modernizing the European hydropower fleet. Energy Conversion and Management, Volume 246,114655, ISSN 0196-8904,


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