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News & Info 06 September 2021

Joint event EERA JP HYDRO and HYDROPOWER “Sustainability and the acceptability of hydropower as part of the clean energy transition”

On the 2nd of September, over 60 participants attended the webinar: “Sustainability and the acceptability of hydropower as part of the clean energy transition” hosted jointly with EERA JP HYDRO and HYDROPOWER EUROPE.

The event, organised on the framework of the European Sustainable Energy Week 2021 (EUSEW21), counted on four experts who shed some light on the socioeconomic and ecological consequences of hydropower, and how they can be mitigated to achieve the full potential that hydropower can reach to in the clean energy transition.

Anton Schleiss, honorary president of ICOLD and professor emeritus at EPFL, opened the session and introduced the main topic of the event. Ole Gunnar Dalhaugh, Coordinator of EERA’s Joint Programme Hydropower, acted as chair of the session.

Main findings:

Berit Köhler, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway

Ms Köhler started by detailing the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of hydropower at different levels, where the perception at local community level is usually the one which creates the most problems to successfully implement hydropower projects. For this reason, she stressed the importance on the research of social acceptance to avoid unnecesary conflicts, promote social sustainability and the clean energy transition of the region.

Agnès Barillier, EDF, France

Ms Barillier presented us with some successful examples where the environmental impact of hydropower had been mitigated. She concluded that it was imperative to work with stakeholders and have a long-term commitment in order to reduce it.

Staffan Lundström, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

Mr Lundström expressed that, without mitigation technology, there is a risk that the increasing regulation affects the environment and the society in a negative way. In this sense, flexible hydropower can have a key role in environmental mitigation.

Nuno Portal, EDP Produção, Portugal

Mr Portal made an overview of EDP Produção 's history and the challenges he has faced during the years that he has worked there. He expressed his concern about the 2050 challenges. To name one: it is foreseen that the demand of electricity will triple, and this will need to be achieved with zero-carbon emission technologies.

Poll on provocative statements

At the end of the presentations, the participants responded to nine questions that had been prepared by the speakers in the form of polls (1 do not agree - 10 strongly agree):

  1. The social acceptance of hydropower could be a critical bottleneck in the clean energy transition. - 43% marked 8
  2. The local environmental impacts of hydropower production have not been taken seriously enough - 24% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  3. It is necessary to find optimised solutions for both, hydropower production, the local environment and the people living in the area - 86% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  4. A developer should abandon a project if mitigation of ecological issues has no local acceptance - shared majority of 21% between 10 and 8
  5. An operator must be commited to continuous improvements in the preservation of the local environment - 55% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  6. Highly flexible hydropower is beneficial for the ecosystem in a regulated river - shared majority (34%) between 8 and 5, this one meaning unsure.
  7. Effects from a highly flexible hydropower can be mitigated - 33% maked 8, followed by 23% of 10, and a noticeable 17% of unsure (5)
  8. Hydropower projects still have an important role in the switch to renewable energy - 69% marked strongly agree (10)
  9. In a very demanding environment, related with the energy transition and the Climate Change process, Hydropower projects will maintain a significant importance in electricity production in the future - 59% marked strongly agree (10)

Closing remarks

Anton Schleiss and Ole Gunnar Dalhaugh took the responsibility of making some final remarks:

Presentations have shown that hydropower will have a key role in the energy transition, but there are some challenges to be addressed. More research and awareness about flexibility, social acceptance, especially local constraints, and environmental mitigation are what will make the role of hydropower evolve. Mr Schleiss concluded: "It is always the goal to create a win-win situation, even if it takes a long time to achieve that among all the stakeholders"

A recording of the webinar is available here