In Europe, high unused potential in small hydro

Date: March 1st 2012 Author: Tanja Srnovršnik

Europe plays a pioneering role in the field of hydro power plants, but started to lag behind in the last decade due to environmental restrictions. Today, however, we could be speaking of a new renaissance in this sector, president of the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA), Marko Gospodinjački, said at the first European Hydropower Summit, organised by Superlit in Bucharest. In the final analysis, South East Europe has been one of the most active regions in this regard in the recent years.

FOTO: Tanja Srnovršnik

Small hydropower plants provide, according to Gospodinjački, enough power to supply 12 million households. But, as he said, less than half of this potential is being used. When it comes to small hydro, investors today face a series of environmental obstacles.
“Europe has a number of good examples of how quickly projects can be developed. Why is it possible to build hydro power plants fast in some of the countries, while in others, such as Slovenia, things get delayed?” Gospodinjački asked himself. He believes one of the factors is environmental sensibility, which has lately been on the up. This is why he feels appropriate standards must be introduced. “The sector is ready to look for solutions in cooperation with environmentalists,” he emphasized, adding that he would like to see environment ministries have hydro power more involved in their consultations.

Turkey’s big plans for RES
Increased demand for renewable power increases the demand also for small hydropower projects, observed Selahattin Çimen, Deputy Undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry
of Energy and Natural Resources. He is convinced these could be used to make a transition to more sustainable economies. In Europe, he sees ample opportunity for small hydro (up to 10 MW), a sector that could grow in its capacities by over 4000 MW.
Hydro power plants account for a fifth of global power, according to a World Bank report. In developed countries, the total economically feasible potential is 1900 GW, of which nearly 70 percent remains unused. Almost 90 percent of the hydro potential is unexploited in Africa, and over 60 percent in the rest of the world.
This shows Turkey is one of the countries which recognize the opportunity small hydro provides. In Turkey, GDP growth led to an almost 8 percent rise in the demand for energy in 2010. By 2020, the demand is expected to grow by a further 6.7 to 7.5 percent. 5000 MW of capacities was added to existing installations in Turkey in 2010, and 4000 MW in 2011, most of it accounted for by RES (wind or hydro power). By 2020, RES are expected to account for at least 30 percent, Çimen said. Turkey’s hydro potential totals 130 billion kWh, but the country now taps into one third of this. Over 1000 hydro projects are currently being developed.

Macedonia outstripping Europe in RES
Slovenia’s neighbour Austria has about 2600 small hydropower plants, connected into the grid. These generate about 5.6 TWh of power each year, accounting for about 9 percent of power consumption in Austria. We still see huge potential, said Martina Prechtl, Managing Director at Austrian Small Hydropower Association. They believe that by 2020, production could be improved by 0.5 to 1 TWh through revitalization, while the potential for new facilities is estimated at 1 to 1.5 TWh. Austria aims to increase the share of RES to 34 percent by 2020.
One country that saw a very quick progress in small hydro, according to Gospodinjački perhaps even quicker than other European countries, is Macedonia. The country now needs new investors, as its consumption totals 9 TWh, whereas its facilities only generate 6 TWh of power. This means the rest of it must be imported, explained Lazar Gechevski, Director of the Macedonian Energy Agency.
406 small hydro projects with the total installed power of 258 MW, generating an average 1094 GWh of power annually, could be built in Macedonia. Gechevski estimated the country’s full hydro potential by 2020 at about 1600 MW. But before actually constructing a small hydropower plant, possible future investors should visit the site and examine it, in order to get reliable data, Gechevski also said. Back to previous page