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Achieving European small hydro growth

The recent ESHA (European Small Hydropower Association) Hidroenergia congress and trade fair in Istanbul heard a keynote presentation from Professor Bernhard Pelikan of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.

Pelikan explained that in all of the European Union countries there is indeed a reasonable achievable potential for small hydro, based on the detailed analysis undertaken as part of the Stream map project.

But he also pointed out that while the previous 10 or 15 years had seen some achievements and been quite fruitful in terms of small hydro development, he actually feels less optimistic when considering the next decade or so.

This places small hydro at odds with almost every other type of renewable energy where falling costs and greater production volumes are seeing cost dramatically fall as installations soar.

What is it about small hydro in Europe that is so challenging?

Of course there are numerous obstacles to be overcome in the realisation any energy project, large or small and whether it is based on the use of hydropower or some other form of energy source. Examples include economic, environmental, administrative and regulatory barriers.

But, of the issues which Pelikan highlighted, administrative and regulatory are perhaps the most challenging with the involvement of multiple government and regulatory bodies and an approvals process that can last for many years.

Furthermore, this requirement to engage with multiple regulatory authorities can paradoxically yield contradictory results, where some agencies approve a project while others do not.

Pelikan also noted that plans to address these challenges have failed to realise any meaningful results, suggesting that the development of small hydropower projects is still languishing far being the potential for this abundant resource.

Naturally, any energy project could be derailed by these trying circumstances, but in the case of smaller projects, and in particular small hydropower projects, such a regime could result in a proposal being entirely abandoned. Given that the commercial margins for small hydro projects are narrow enough under ideal circumstances, that unnecessary burdens should be added to the numerous challenges that already face a project developer is an outrage.

Clearly more needs to be done to streamline the regulatory requirements in small hydro development and if governments are serious about meeting their commitments to low carbon development and security of energy supply they will do just that.

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