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Record Numbers Signal Hydro Growth

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

If there is one single indication that interest in hydropower is at an all time high, then it must be the record attendance at the recent HydroVision International event in Sacramento, California, USA, in July 2011.

The largest ever attendance in the event’s history, this marked the second consecutive year that attendee numbers had not only grown, but grown significantly, with close to 3,500 people from some 44 countries at the event — up about 15% on the previous year’s numbers.

One of the highlights emerged from the keynote session, featuring a roundtable discussion by four high-ranking executives and led by my colleague, Russell Ray. With Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources; Randy Livingston, vice president of Power Generation for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.; James Tracy, chief financial officer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District; and Joerg Pohlman, managing director of the SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers GmbH & Co. on the panel — and more than 800 people in attendance — Tracy identified one key area of development: "We have to start looking at pumped storage hydro because of regulations," he said. Cowin echoed this view, saying, for instance, that California’s power future lies in more than just new builds: "We must consider integration, retrofits and some new development," he said.

Indeed, it would appear that while hydropower has a great future potential in the USA — with the right policies in place, a number of speakers commented, as much as 60 GW of new hydro capacity could be in place by 2025 — but much attention is being focused on smaller, low-impact projects utilizing existing dam structures or in particular in the area of pumped storage.

"California has 11-12% of renewables and the potential to reach 20% by the end of this year," added Tracy, noting: "Now the goal is 33%, which is a big leap. Most of that will have to come from wind and solar."

This sentiment is widely echoed in Europe and other mature markets, where the real growth in new hydro capacity is being driven by the demands of balancing a generation portfolio increasingly dominated by variable output renewables, such as wind. But in developing markets, such as Brazil, as explored in our cover story on page 14, it is other considerations that are accelerating the development of new hydro capacity. Aside from our in-depth look at Brazil, the opportunity to discover more about the Latin American hydro scene is provided by our forthcoming HydroVision Brazil event this month. This is its first year, but given the excitement that surrounds this industry, we expect the event to attract a great deal of interest.

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