The International Energy Agency has developed three reports which it hopes will provide the industry, particularly young engineers, with the knowledge and guidance they need to successfully upgrade hydro power plants in the future

The international-energy-agency (IEA) is an autonomous body which was established in November 1974 within the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The IEA headquarters are in Paris, France, and it carries out a comprehensive programme of energy co-operation among 25 of the OECD’s 30 member countries. An important objective of the IEA is to encourage the increased deployment of renewable energies, and to collaborate on research and development in this area.

A working group of IEA member countries that has a common interest in a particular technology is known as an ‘implementing agreement’. An implementing agreement sets up a number of task forces, called ‘annexes’, which work on particular topics within the overall subject of the agreement. During its first phase (1995-2000), the hydro power agreement had task forces on:

  • Upgrading (annex I).

  • Small scale hydro power (annex II).

  • Hydro power and the environment (annex III).

  • Education and training (annex V).

Implementing agreements or working groups of IEA members work under the auspices of the IEA, but do not formally represent the IEA in any way. Therefore, the views presented in websites or reports of implementing agreements do not necessarily reflect the views of the IEA or the governments they represent.

Participating countries designate an organisation which may be a government department or any other appropriate organisation (research organisations, para-statal organisations, universities, private companies) to represent them on the executive committee of the implementing agreement.

The executive committee directs the establishment of new task forces (annexes) and the closing down of old ones. Both an implementing agreement and its annexes are set up for a fixed time period at first, which is usually five years. At the end of this period, a formal decision is made either to continue the work for a second phase or to stop it.

The annexes do the actual work of the implementing agreement. Participation in an annex is voluntary, the only provisions are that member countries must participate in at least one annex, and that annexes must have a minimum number of two participating countries.

The upgrading task force

With restructuring in the power industry and the ageing of its experts, for whom there is little or no replacement, there emerged a need for power plant owners or young engineers to have guidelines to follow. Work on guidelines has been carried out by annexes, which in fact were task forces, including experts from the field, power utilities, government bodies involved in hydro power or engineering companies.

Annex 1, which was the annex on upgrading, started with expert members from Canada, Norway, France and Italy. Through the shake-ups and changes of the power utility industry, the extent of the participation of some members changed and one (Italy) dropped out of the agreement in 1998. However, two other countries joined: Sweden and Finland, which made it possible to complete the work. Participants in the upgrading annex studied technical issues related to upgrading turbines, generators and control systems.


The task force on upgrading produced the following three reports:

  • Guidelines on methodology for hydroelectric turbine upgrading by runner replacement – 1998.

  • Guidelines on methodology for the upgrading of hydroelectric generators – to be completed by the end of 2000.

  • Guidelines on methodology for the upgrading of hydro power control systems – to be completed in 2000.

Each report outlines the process of upgrading from completing checklists to a simple worksheet, which allows an owner to calculate the benefits of an upgrade. Once the owner justifies the need for an upgrade via the worksheet, the guidelines provide suggestions on design, scheduling the upgrade and purchasing equipment. Rather than focusing on case histories in creating the guidelines, participants drew from their own experiences in identifying ‘rules of thumb’.

The agreement was signed in 1995 but the task force got off to a slow start. At first participants aimed at gathering information on different cases and thought of setting up a database from which to extract the best practices and experiences. However, it soon appeared to be a tedious task and the lack of uniformity as well as the different levels of detail for the available information required a change of approach.

In 1998 it was decided that the work scheme should be changed and they should aim for guidelines on the most critical elements: turbines, generators and control systems. The last three years have been dedicated to the preparation of three guidelines. The first guideline on Francis runner upgrades is ready for publication. The two other reports were scheduled for completion by the end of 2000.

The reports give guidelines to private or corporate owners on how to upgrade a plant by actually outlining a process to follow. The reports are aimed at any producer who does not have the specialised resources available to analyse the technical and economical feasibility, or economic payback of the upgrade. In some ways these guidelines will allow owners to validate proposals from engineering companies or manufacturers.

The reports are a useful tool for young engineers or engineering students as they help them understand the different aspects of upgrading, what to watch for, the best return on the invested money and help them to make decisions during the upgrading project.