Ten European energy giants establish Hydropower Alliance


Photo: iStock


May 5, 2023



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May 5, 2023



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A group of major hydropower plant operators adopted a platform as the Hydropower Alliance, asking the European Commission to adopt a strategy for the sector, including pumped storage.

The energy crisis has turned investors’ sight back to hydropower. Despite a continuous drought in Europe and strong public opposition to such projects, especially small hydroelectric units, the newly-established Hydropower Alliance is seeking assurances for companies in the segment.

The European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson met with its representatives in Brussels. She said the Hydropower Alliance united the biggest players and that they have a combined 111 GW in capacity. Hydropower is a crucial source of renewable electricity for the European Union, according to Simson.

Founding members claim hydropower is essential pillar of energy transition

Enel, EDP, EDF, Engie, Iberdrola, Fortum, Statkraft, Uniper, Vattenfall and Verbund said hydropower is an essential pillar of the energy transition, adding that investments are necessary to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, ANSA reported. Their technology provides “affordable, dispatchable and safe renewable electricity,” the platform reads.

Persistent droughts raise the question of the viability of investments in hydropower

Hydropower facilitates the integration of large quantities of renewable energy from intermittent sources into the system, providing flexibility including storage, the article adds. The utilities highlighted the role of repowering existing facilities and installing more of them for the EU’s goals.

Alliance requests hydropower to be declared strategic technology

The Hydropower Alliance asked the 27-member bloc’s executive body to “create an adequate, reliable and sustainable economic, political and legal framework for investments.” It pointed to the need for a strategy like the ones for other kinds of renewables and said hydropower should be included in the list of strategic technologies, the news outlet learned.

The public is mostly against hydropower plant construction, but a vast capacity can be refurbished or upgraded with little environmental impact

So far the EU’s approach was mostly to refurbish and upgrade existing plants. Locals and environmentalists, usually hostile to new projects as harmful, argue there is little potential left untapped, at least as far as sustainability is concerned. Moreover, after last year’s extreme drought across the continent, hydropower reservoirs are drying up again. It raises the question of the viability of proposed investments.

The association of French hydropower operators, FHE, claims that the country’s output in the sector could grow by a fifth and that it is equivalent to last winter’s entire coal and gas imports.

Pumped storage is still key for deployment of intermittent renewables

The role of pumped storage is particularly relevant. Such systems can keep excess electricity from wind and solar power plants when demand drops, and deliver it to the grid when there is a deficit, for instance upon unpredicted and unfavorable changes in the weather. It is the only conventional energy storage technology for now as batteries are expensive and in short supply.

The resistance to hydropower projects is also strong in the Western Balkans, which aren’t part of the EU, and elsewhere in Southeastern Europe. In March, Albania declared the Vjosa, one of the last wild rivers in the continent, a national park with the highest level of protection. The decision followed a decade-long struggle against proposed dams.

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