There will be no downturn in the hydroelectric sector, and the growth seen in previous years will continue. Thus concluded Dr. Christian Bauer of the Vienna University of Technology in his opening address at the 16th International Seminar on Hydropower Plants, held in Vienna, Austria, at the end of November.
One key area that is expected to see significant interest, particularly in liberalized competitive electricity markets, is the development of additional storage and pumped-storage capacity. For example, Austrian utility Verbund's Dr. Ulrike Baumgartner-Gabitzer, speaking at the Vienna seminar and commenting on the need for storage and pumped-storage plants in the European electricity network, observed: "The fluctuating wind power generation needs backup and energy storage capacities in order to achieve a better system integration. If the development of photovoltaic power plants advances in a similar manner as wind energy, the need for energy storage facilities will increase further."
She noted that recent increases in the number of wind turbines has not only led to substantial problems in the grid but also for the electricity market, adding that increased wind generation had resulted in negative market prices in several instances. "With the strong increase of wind power in the electricity grid, storage and especially pumped-storage hydropower plants experience an enormous boost. While researchers are searching intensively for new large-scale storage possibilities, pumped-storage power plants remain the most efficient and economically feasible form for indirect storage of electrical energy," said Dr. Baumgartner-Gabitzer.
Certainly this observation is borne out by recent developments across Europe, which are highlighted in our feature on page 18.
However, despite the generally upbeat outlook for the hydro sector, Dr. Bauer did identify changing priorities in the hydroelectricity sector, saying, "In the past, we focused very much on efficiency, but now we have to put a greater focus on transmission times, maintenance and safety issues."
One of these safety issues relates to a hydro facility's environmental performance, for instance with regard to discharges of lubricating oil into the water. One method for addressing this issue is to minimize the use of oil in and around the generating unit. This option is considered for Kaplan turbines in our lead feature on page 12.
It is perhaps too early to determine the truth of Dr. Bauer's statement that growth in the hydro sector will continue unabated. However, it is clear that with a focus on delivering desirable properties and improved performance in a changing, and challenging, energy environment, hydropower is ensuring its position in the competitive electricity sector.