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Hydro's Bright Future

David AppleyardChief Editor

"Hydro is back" — so concluded International Hydropower Association President Dr. Refaat Abdel-Malek in a speech during the keynote session at the recent HydroVision International 2010 event in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

With very close to 3,000 delegates and more than 270 exhibitors, making this year's event the largest ever, Dr. Abdel-Malek is clearly not alone in his expression of a positive outlook. This is after all an industry that has so much to offer to both developed and developing nations alike as part of a diverse, secure, low-cost and clean energy mix that is able to respond to the vagaries of supply and demand. This is a role hydro fulfils perhaps better than any other technology.

Duke Energy's president and chief operating officer, Jim Turner, also delivered a speech during the keynote session. He argued, rightly, that the industry needs to work to make certain it does not get overlooked in the renewable energy generation mix. "Hydro has gotten lost in the race toward solar, wind and other currently popular green energy sources", Turner said. "Yet, in fact, hydro represents a vast renewable energy resource that should not be ignored."

Times are changing though and there can be little doubt that hydro power will continue to play a significant part in the global electricity generation portfolio, both now and in the future. One of the more active areas of hydro development currently is the pumped storage sector. The attractive operational characteristics of these facilities make them ideal in balancing variable renewable energy sources. As a result — and as our lead article on page 12 reveals — a swathe of new development is under way, alongside a significant volume of refurbishment and repowering work at existing pumped-storage installations. Looking ahead, it is easy to picture considerably larger volumes of variable renewable capacity on the grids of most nations. It is therefore also easy, for instance, to conceive of a future that features significant expansion of the pumped-storage sector.

But even though the wider economic landscape presents a positive outlook, Abdel-Malek hinted that the industry must also work to maintain this new momentum. He emphasized the role of environmental stewardship, calling for hydro developers to place sustainability among their top priorities. We explore some aspects of this challenge on page 34, where the author proposes an economic model that may help developers reach an equitable resettlement of the people who are inevitably displaced as a result of new dams and reservoirs.

As the largest ever, HydroVision International revealed an industry on the ascendent and on page 28 we present one possible vision of the far flung future that may emerge from such robust foundations. In the third and final part of our series considering control technology we explore a sobering world in which the decisions are made by computers and human hydro dam operators are largely surplus to requirements.

Also delivering an address during the keynote, and perhaps considering a more immediate time frame, Brad Carson, director of the National Energy Policy Institute, said: "There is a very bright future for hydropower." Given the wealth of evidence on display at Charlotte, he's right — hydro is back and the future is bright.

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