EU Research Initiative sets out Ambitious Agenda for Future Hydropower

There is significant potential for increasing hydropower capacity in Europe provided barriers to development are addressed, a major research initiative funded by the European Commission has concluded.

The HYDROPOWER EUROPE forum brought together a coalition of more than 600 stakeholders from the industry, policy-makers, civil society and academia to study the technology’s future role in the energy transition.

Three years after the research forum was launched in 2019, the partners have now published a Strategic Industry Roadmap featuring 40 detailed policy recommendations, as well as a Research and Innovation Agenda for industry covering 18 research themes.

Policy and research agenda

With the European Green Deal targeting net zero emissions by 2050 by increasing renewables generation, the research forum concludes that: “Hydropower has all the characteristics to serve as an excellent catalyst for a successful energy transition.

“Our vision is that Europe will require a more flexible, efficient, environmentally and socially acceptable increase in hydropower generation to achieve the new European energy system,” the forum partners conclude.

The recommendations state governments should simplify approval procedures and adapt regulations for the energy transition, offering long-term concessions and abolishing double taxation regimes, among other measures.

To incentivise investment, the forum proposes European markets are reformed to better remunerate hydropower for the flexibility services it provides to energy grids, as well as encouraging the adoption of financing schemes such green bonds.

To enhance hydropower’s environmental performance, the forum proposes widening adoption of best practices including strategies to protect biodiversity, water quality and sediment management.

New European energy system

The roadmap and research and innovation agenda were presented on 23 February 2022 at a conference organised by HYDROPOWER-EUROPE with the European Commission. Read about the event and watch the YouTube video.

Presenting the findings, Professor Dr Anton Schleiss, Honorary President of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) highlighted that “only two thirds of the economically feasible potential had been tapped so far”.

In more than half of European countries, hydropower still provides a significant share of electricity generation and it will continue to support the energy transition in future decades, Schleiss said.

“The International Hydropower Association is pleased to welcome the HYDROPOWER-EUROPE policy and research agenda, recognising that these findings will have wide resonance and potential application in Europe and around the world,” commented Eddie Rich, Chief Executive of IHA.

“The European Union has set an ambitious agenda for achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This will require investment in hydropower as well as solar and wind. Expanding capacity will require innovation and modernisation as well as ensuring new developments are in line with the global Hydropower Sustainability Standard,” he added.

Research themes identified as top priorities are: innovation in hydropower flexibility, pumped storage and developing new business models; hybrid virtual power plants; applying solutions to mitigate environmental impacts and improve biodiversity protection; sediment management strategies; as well as systems for predictive maintenance.

Looking to the future, Jean-Jacques Fry, President of EUCOLD told conference participants that a priority must be placed now on advocacy efforts. “Communication on hydro as a catalyst for the energy transition is key for the future,” he said.

“It is clear that hydropower has been providing a great service for more than 150 years, but now it is time to speak to civil society and policymakers about its future development potential”.


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