Hydropower, despite being the most mature renewable technology, faces several challenges in the modern age, with one of the major issues being the need to update ageing fleets to meet modern power system requirements. This was highlighted in a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which focused on hydropower’s evolving role in the current energy arena.

The report – The changing role of hydropower: Challenges and opportunities – produced in the context of IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower, provides a snapshot of the current status of hydropower and lays out a vision of how to realise its potential. With regards to refurbishment, it points out that regions like Europe, North America and Oceania have considerably older fleets than others such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America – showing there is a clear distinction between developed and developing economies. This can be explained due to the fact that developed economies exploited their hydropower resources earlier than developing countries, and as a result, they have more urgent refurbishment needs. The issue of an ageing fleet and refurbishment needs will however eventually become relevant for all regions, the report emphasises.

Because of this, countries with hydropower fleets – even those with newer projects – are being urged to plan for the future modernisation of their plants.

“Hydropower has been an effective source of clean power generation for more than a century,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “However, with the rapidly evolving energy landscape, it is important to re-evaluate its future role and leverage recent technological advancements that can maximise its potential while ensuring its sustainability and climate resilience.”

Refurbishment work

There are a number of refurbishment projects ongoing across the world. In Pakistan for example, GE was selected by the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to refurbish two hydropower units (9 & 10) at the Mangla hydropower plant in Pakistan as part of a project that will increase the plant’s capacity by 280MW.

The scope of work includes the design, supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the two hydro turbine and generator components.

GE had previously been selected for the ongoing refurbishment of six other units (1 to 6) at the same site. The 100MW units will be replaced by 135MW units.

Mangla, which has 10 hydropower turbines and is one of the largest power plants in the country, is a 50-year-old hydropower plant producing 1GW of renewable energy for Pakistan. As Pakistan’s electricity consumption is growing, the refurbishment work will extend the lifetime, efficiency, and capacity of the plant.

“By replacing the units in an existing dam, we can extend the life of a project for another 50 years,” said Pascal Radue, Hydro Solutions President & CEO, GE. “We can also increase the capacity of the hydropower plant, to deliver an even larger amount of renewable energy for the country. We are thrilled to be partnering further with WAPDA on this project to help accelerate the hydro energy transition in Pakistan.”

Over in Ecuador, the 212MW San Francisco hydroelectric project is back to full operation following the overhaul of one of the project’s generating units, CELEC EP HIDROAGOYÁN has announced.

Unit No 2 was returned to generation on 16 February following the maintenance which took 102 days and was carried out as scheduled. Maintenance work is carried out every eight years to achieve a complete recovery of the useful life of the main equipment, turbine and generator. Unlike previous overhauls, however, the current work involved placing new impeller covers, both lower and upper, and a repaired impeller. These works were carried out at the Center for Research and Recovery of Turbines and Industrial Parts (CIRT), also managed by CELEC EP, which generated notable savings in economic resources for the country.

According to Daniel Paredes, head of the San Francisco power plant, many benefits are expected to be obtained from this major maintenance, such as guaranteeing the energy supply of almost 5.2% of the country’s electrical energy demand, improving the efficiency of the drive, reduced forced outs and extended drive life.

In Australia, Hydro Tasmania successfully completed an A$32 million upgrade to Lake Echo Power Station at the end of last year to modernise this critical infrastructure and provide remote operation capability.

The machine-running flexibility provided by remote operation increases the station’s ability to produce clean, dispatchable electricity for Tasmanians and to help decarbonise Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM).

Commissioned in 1956, Lake Echo is one of the main headwater storages for the Nive and Derwent River catchments and is located on the eastern side of the ‘Y’ shaped Upper Derwent hydroelectric scheme. The 34 MW Lake Echo Power Station releases water for use by a further seven stations downstream, with the flows also benefitting irrigators and recreational water users.

The station’s renovation, which took 15 months to complete because of the complexity, remote location, and significant extent of work, included the replacement of the Francis turbine runner and the replacement or refurbishment of all other machine components.

Hydro Tasmania CEO Ian Brooksbank said the timely and significant reset of Lake Echo Power Station ensured it would continue to provide safe, reliable, and flexible renewable electricity for decades to come.

“Getting the most out of our existing hydropower generation is a key part of the Battery of the Nation vision,” Mr Brooksbank said.

“We can fully unlock this vision with the new 1500MW Marinus Link interconnector.

“I congratulate the Lake Echo team for the successful delivery of this exciting refurbishment project.”

In Japan,  Chubu Electric Power Co., Inc. and Chubu Electric Power Miraiz Co., Inc. recently reached a basic agreement to establish a user-participatory renewable energy expansion model for the renovation of existing hydroelectric power plants, with a consortium of six global companies including Applied Materials, Inc., Micron Technology, Inc., and Skyworks Solutions, Inc.

Recently, global companies, mainly in Europe and the US promoting the introduction of renewable energy, have been emphasizing the importance of procuring electricity that contributes to increasing the amount of renewable energy (additionality) by renovating existing renewable energy sources or developing new sources.

Under this Model, the Consortium are encouraged to actively participate from the planning stage in the renovation of non-FIT existing hydroelectric power plants implemented by Chubu Electric Power. The Consortium will be able to proactively contribute to the expansion of renewable energy by paying consideration for the “additionality” when purchasing the renewable energy including the increased electricity generated by the renovation through Chubu Electric Miraiz.

The first project to be implemented using this Model is the renovation of ageing facilities at Oigawa Hydroelectric Power Plant Unit 1, which is expected to increase annual power generation by about 1.9GWh from 2025.

This article first appeared in International Water Power magazine.