“hydropower’s Contribution To Europe’s Clean Electricity” – Last week the International Energy Agency published its “Hydropower Special Market Report” and next week the Commission will present its 55 package for Fit. Why is hydropower so important?

“You can literally feel the power here,” says Hilde Bakken, vice president of hydropower at Norwegian energy company Statkraft, Europe’s largest producer of renewables.

“hydropower’s Contribution To Europe’s Clean Electricity”

He is standing next to one of the large yellow and orange generators of the Kvildal hydroelectric station. Deep in the mountains of western Norway, UFO-like vehicles generate enough electricity to cover all of Brussels’ electricity consumption, and then some. Bakken’s mission is to manage 17.7 GW of installed capacity, which will produce 62.4 TW of electricity in 2020.

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Kvillal is one of Norway’s 1,100 plus hydroelectric plants. Hydropower is important in Europe’s energy system because its dispatchable electricity generation – which can be switched on and off as demand for electricity rises and falls – fits well with the development of new intermittent wind and solar power in Europe, as well as natural storage. allows production to be shifted seasonally.

“In Quilldal, power generation can be turned on in five minutes. It takes two years and nine months to fill the reservoir, and we can produce all the stored energy in eight months,” said Bakken, with a booming voice from the Francis turbines that power the generators. “So it complements the electricity production from wind turbines and solar plants. Statkraft alone Europe has 40TW of dispatchable generation capacity, ready to balance intermittent generation at minute intervals, which cannot be switched on easily.”

“It’s about 400 million Tesla car batteries, charged and ready to go,” says Bakken. “Imagine a fully charged Tesla line stretching 60 times around the equator. That’s a lot. “

The Renewable Energy Directive will be a key element of the Fit-for-55 package, where the commission will overhaul climate and energy legislation. The directive provides important parts of the framework for increasing the renewable energy needed to bring Europe to zero emissions. All analyzed options of the Commission’s “Estimation of Contribution” conclude that the share of renewables should increase from 32 percent to 40.4 percent. This calls for more renewable electricity in Europe, including 10% more hydropower and 40% more pumped storage hydropower – all to be built within nine years.

The Potential For Sustainable Hydropower

The rise of intermittent power poses a challenge: how to keep enough power on the grid when renewable electricity is not being produced in the interim?

“It’s a big challenge,” says Bakken, “and it’s harder than it looks because flexibility needs vary a lot depending on where you are and the time of year.

“Some places in Spain in the summer have sudden changes of hours, minutes or even seconds when wind and sun come and go. Other places you need weeks or months of little wind or solar production, for example in winter Germany.

“There are many answers to this problem, including batteries, hydrogen use, interconnections and more flexibility on the supply side.”

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“However, the cost of existing hydropower is hard to beat from a sustainability perspective, considering the cost as well as the climate and societal benefits.”

Last week, the International Energy Agency published its “Hydropower Special Market Report,” a large-scale analysis of the global future of hydropower. “Hydropower is the forgotten giant of clean electricity, and if countries are serious about achieving net zero goals, it needs to be put back on the energy and climate agenda,” said IEA Director Fatih Birol. Bakken agreed, adding that the IEA report is a timely reminder of hydropower’s key role in providing resilience and resilience to climate change.

“Putting hydropower back on the agenda also means creating favorable conditions for building new capacity, as well as reinvesting in the modernization of existing plants,” he adds.

The report identifies seven priority areas for governments to accelerate hydropower development. These areas include recognizing the important role of hydropower for electricity security and maximizing the flexible capacity of existing hydropower plants. The report states: “With its ability to provide large amounts of low-carbon electricity, hydropower is a key asset for building secure and clean electricity systems.”

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Bakken adds: “The renewable flexibility of hydropower helps to stabilize the energy system and reduce balance sheet costs. Thus, hydropower contributes to security of supply in the short and long term. Thus, as part of Europe’s renewable mix of hydropower and renewables, we can ensure a more stable electricity supply, we also get stable electricity prices.”

Hydropower contributed 13 percent of electricity generated in Europe in 2020, up from 4 percent in 2019 – more than all renewable sources combined. This number may explain its long-term importance in the European energy system, as the flexibility of hydropower provides a large share of intermediate power in the electricity mix.

“We typically say that 1TW of flexible hydropower allows for at least 3.5TW of intermittent wind or solar to be built. We know that the intermediate share of Europe’s electricity mix will continue to grow significantly, which means that the role of hydropower as a provider of flexibility that supports renewable growth is becoming increasingly important. It also means that the financial case for investing in hydropower is positive in the long run,” says Bakken.

That’s why it spends 500,000 euros a day to upgrade Statkraft’s hydroelectric plants. Hydropower plants in Europe are on average 45 years old. In the IEA’s Investment Outlook for Europe to 2030, 90 percent of hydropower investments will go to modernizing existing facilities. Back in Kvildal, they are ready to celebrate the factory’s 40th anniversary.

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“His ‘birthday present’ for his 40th birthday was to upgrade his generators and tunnels. This is a 10-year project, and we are investing about 80 million euros in Quillal and nearby plants,” says Bakken.

“However, 40 years is not old at all for hydropower. The Evr Leirfoss power station in Trondheim, Norway began production in 1901 and is still going strong. So, for us, it’s all about the future. With proper maintenance, and rain or snow, these plants can produce unlimited energy. They are built to last. “

Over the life cycle of a power plant, hydropower offers the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy generated. Hydropower is not only climate friendly but also plays an important role in climate adaptation and flood mitigation. Climate change refers to the possibility of extreme weather events, such as sudden heavy rains or melting snow in the mountains, causing floods. Hydroelectric dams can play an important role in reducing such risks.

“These floods are often predictable. Active management of reservoir levels can significantly reduce flood damage, says Bakken.

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While most investments are in modernization, there is potential for more hydropower. According to the IEA, globally, half of hydropower’s economic potential is untapped. The potential is particularly high in emerging and developing economies, reaching 60 percent. New hydropower construction is also important for attracting new skilled workers to the energy sector.

Failure to build new sustainable hydropower capacity could even jeopardize climate goals, according to the IEA report. The report estimates that 230 GW of new hydropower will be added between now and 2030, “unless new policies are implemented to deliver the additional 1,300 GW needed to meet the 1.5 degree temperature rise target.”

“Statcraft is building new hydropower in India and Chile, but I believe there is a good case for developing hydropower in other markets in terms of finance and climate mitigation, flood mitigation and resilience. It is a technology that answers some of the most pressing challenges of our time, both climate and for the power system as well. Current hydropower will provide clean energy for a very long time. So I think the future of hydropower is very bright,” concludes Bakken.

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