Sami Khan, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attended the 2015 World Hydropower Congress in May as the winner of the IHA Young Researcher of the Year award. He writes about his experiences at the event.
As my Hainan Airlines flight from Boston descended into Beijing, I caught a glimpse of the massive Panjiakou Dam on the meandering Luan River. With these gushing waters generating over 400 MW of clean, renewable electricity, it was an exciting preview of the three enthralling days that were awaiting ahead as part of the 2015 World Hydropower Congress.
As a motivated graduate student in mechanical engineering at MIT, the World Hydropower Congress presented me with an ideal opportunity to broaden my perspective on sustainable hydropower.
My main motivations to participate in this congress were twofold – firstly, to learn as much as possible about the past, present and future of hydropower; and secondly, network with hydropower professionals and decision-makers from around the world and engage in meaningful dialogues and discussions.
The 2015 World Hydropower Congress went above and beyond in helping me achieve my goals. At the opening ceremony on day one, I was reminded by Ken Adams, president of the International Hydropower Association, about how far worldwide hydropower development has come today, and how “the contribution of hydropower and its multiple benefits cannot be ignored if we are to meet the challenges of a changing climate and global freshwater management”.
That same evening, I was presented with the International Hydropower Association’s Young Researcher Award at the opening banquet. It was very humbling to receive this honour alongside delegates who have spent their entire careers dedicated to hydropower.
My research on hydrophobic rare-earth oxide coatings was recognised, more details of which can be read here.
On day two, I attended the opening plenary discussion entitled ‘Africa: the future of hydropower’. I was intrigued to learn about the immense hydropower potential in Africa, and the long-term plan to drive sustainable development.
I returned with a renewed passion to continue excelling in my research and making an impact on hydropower development in future."
HE Dr Elham Ibrahim, commissioner for energy and infrastructure at the African Union, made it clear that Africa has a plethora of energy resources, and is, by no means, short on the potential for meeting the ever-growing energy demand of the continent in the near future.
She emphasised the need for overcoming technical, financial, institutional and financial barriers to accelerate projects that will harness these potential resources and bring them to fruition.
I then attended a session on monitoring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from water bodies resulting from the creation of reservoir systems. Prior to this session, I was under the impression that hydropower systems had an extremely trivial GHG footprint; however, in the session I was informed that reservoir changes can contribute significantly to emissions if project siting is not well planned.
Researchers presented a tool that could be used by hydropower plant owners to estimate GHG fluxes from freshwater reservoirs, and how to predict the baseline emission levels before the creation of reservoirs.
Later that day, I participated in a panel discussion on modernisation of hydropower infrastructure. I presented my research on hydrophobic rare-earth oxide coatings and their potential towards providing a reliable, long-term mode of protection for hydropower conveyance structures given their multitude of benefits such as resistance to corrosion, erosion and bio-fouling.
As the sun set across the beautiful Yanqi Lake on the last day of the Congress, I reflected on the solid knowledge I gained by attending the congress sessions, and cherished some of the long-lasting connections and friendships I made.
After an electrifying three days, I returned to MIT with a very strong understanding of the future of sustainable hydropower development, and a massive stack of business cards. I returned with a renewed passion to continue excelling in my research and making an impact on hydropower development in future.
In his speech to the Congress delegates on day two, Dr Reza Ardakanian, director of UNU-FLORES, said: “While energy is renewable, water is a fixed resource all of us will have to share”. This picture on the left puts this further into perspective: if all of the world’s water – oceans, lakes, glaciers, aquifers, atmospheric water vapor, everything – were fitted in to a single sphere, it would have a diameter of only 860 miles. This tiny blue sphere is indeed a stunning testament to the very limited water resources we have on our planet, and the importance of recognising this scarcity and harnessing these resources sustainably to the best of our ability in the upcoming future.