After a long and successful governance of the European Small Hydro Association (esha) by Henri Baguenier, the association’s first president since 1988, a new president and management team were elected during ESHA’s annual general meeting held during October 2001 in Barcelona, Spain. New president David Miller from Ireland, and secretary general Christine Lins, together with experts from 13 European countries, will now pursue the interests of the small hydro sector in Europe and worldwide.

ESHA is based in Renewable Energy House in Brussels, Belgium, where it shares an office with other renewable energy associations. It is a founding member of the European Renewable Energy Council, (EREC), an association regrouping the leading European renewable energy industry and research associations in the field of biomass, photovoltaics, solar thermal, small hydro and wind.

The last four or five years have been largely spent debating the rules of the game for future renewable energy, especially small hydro development. These rules have now been agreed and are represented substantially by the Renewables’ Directive, The Community Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection, and the Preussen Elektra Judgement of the European Court. ESHA will have an important role to play in ensuring that these provisions are implemented at both national and community level.

Over the next few years, small hydro, in terms of capacity and even cost, may be overtaken in Europe by newer technologies, but it will still provide an important share of the renewable energy contribution. ESHA is responsible for making sure that the financial wellbeing of existing small hydro producers is protected, while paving the way for new capacity.

Small hydro potential in Europe

ESHA has recently finished the Blue Age study, which provides information on state-of-the-art small hydro power development in Europe. The study assesses the potential for future small hydro development, both in terms of upgrading the oldest existing plants and building new sites. It has tried to point out the difference between the technical and realistic potential, that is, given economic, administrative and environmental constraints. It analyses the economics of small hydro sources in order to understand how competitive it is today with respect to the other principal power generation technologies.

Small hydro power potential in the EU is considerable, but since around 1950, it has had a negative development in some member countries. Many plants have been shut down because of age and competition from new, larger plants. The potential from reinstalling these plants and upgrading existing, underdeveloped small hydro plants is estimated to be around 4500GWh/yr.

Based on questionnaire answers given by EU member states, the potential of new plants (reduced when economic and environmental constraints have been taken into account) is calculated to be about 19,600GWh/yr.

According to the Blue Age study, the remaining potential from small hydro will be some 2700MW (11.5TWh/yr) in 2015 – rather less than the 18TWh/yr in 2010 that was forecast by the EU Commission in its 1987 White Paper. Based on present annual production of 40TWh, the possible total production from small hydro in the EU has been estimated at 51.5TWh in 2015 with a capacity of some 12,850MW, while the EU White Paper foresees 55TWh from 14,000MW in 2010. If the economic situation for producers improves, and environmental constraints decrease, the total contribution from small hydro power in the 15 member countries of the EU could probably reach 60TWh in 2020-30.

The market for manufacturers

EU equipment manufacturers still hold a leading position in the world, but their position is being threatened by a lack of motivation to invest in new small hydro and keep up existing plants.

This situation is caused by a shrinking market for energy producers in the deregulated electricity market, combined with a growing number of environmental and legal constraints. The margins for producers are still good in a few countries like Germany and Spain and consequently the markets in these countries are better.

The non-EU market is still promising and offers good prospects for EU manufacturers but financing the projects is a serious problem, and so are differences in business culture. Small companies are finding it difficult to deal with such problems.

The Blue Age study, which is available from ESHA’s Brussels office, illustrates well the potential for small hydro exploitation in Europe as well as its limits. In this context, ESHA’s upcoming conference Hidroenergia, which will take place on 3-6 July 2002 in Mulhouse, France, will serve as a platform to discuss topics crucial for the future development of small hydro.

Since 1989, when signatory members of the Kyoto Protocol declared their commitment to measures to protect the environment and to fight against climate change, this biennial conference has been bringing together specialists in the field of small hydro from all over the world. The EU has since put Kyoto’s objectives in a European context and has set concrete goals for renewable energy in its white paper Energy for the Future: Renewable Sources of Energy. For small hydro, the paper foresees an additional installed capacity of 4500MW by 2010.

Hidroenergia 2002 will provide solutions on how to reach the Kyoto commitments in the field of small hydro and will deal with the challenges and opportunities that the sector faces. It will bring together all major players in small hydro. Experts will discuss issues ranging from institutional aspects and financing, to technical aspects and innovations, as well as environmental aspects. The small hydro industry is facing major challenges in the form of environmental constraints in industrialised countries. But, many opportunities are emerging to expand the small hydro market worldwide. New political mechanisms emerging from the Kyoto commitments open the path for innovative solutions which request increasing international co-operation and multilateral exchange of information.

The latest small hydro technology will be showcased in an accompanying exhibition.

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