Hydropower in climate change mitigation and adaptation

The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change and limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) deals with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, climate adaptation and finance. The commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions has been an important contributor to the increasing share of renewables in the European energy system.

Hydropower is a renewable energy technology with a low carbon footprint, which performs favorably regarding the emission of greenhouse gases. Moreover, hydropower enables further deployment of variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar due to its quick response and storage capability. Hydropower can also play a key role in climate change adaptation efforts, due to associated water management services like flood and drought control.

However, hydropower production often has negative effects on local biodiversity and people’s livelihood since many people depend on ecosystem services produced by watersheds that are affected by hydropower. Therefore, the HydroFlex project will assess environmental and socio-economic impacts of flexible hydropower through all of its life cycle stages in addition to developing new technology for increased flexibility.

Flexible hydropower in energy systems of the future

Flexibility is a requirement inherent in all power systems. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on how to manage flexibility. The current transformation of the European and global power system towards a fully sustainable and renewable production mix will put large challenges on the transmission system operators (TSOs) to maintain a good quality of supply. All analyses indicate that non-dispatchable and intermittent renewable energy sources (wind and PV solar in particular) will be a key component of the energy mix for the coming decades. Demand side flexibility and chemical storage solutions may alleviate parts of the challenges. However, both existing and new hydropower plants represent an important source of flexibility. A further increase of the flexibility of hydropower will thus increase its value in a future energy system.

The goal of the HydroFlex project is to develop new technology permitting highly flexible operation of hydropower stations. Flexibility of operation here means large ramping rates, frequent start-stops and possibilities to provide a large range of system services (frequency regulation, voltage regulation, black start capability, synchronous condenser operation, spinning reserve etc.). All this within (strict) excellent environmental and social conditions while being economically competitive compared to alternative solutions.

The main market for the HydroFlex innovations are Europe, USA and part of Asia. The technology development will also benefit emerging economies in Africa, Asia and America as they develop new hydropower projects.