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Blog | The role of multipurpose hydropower in a water-stressed world: World Energy Congress 2016
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The role of multipurpose hydropower in a water-stressed world: World Energy Congress 2016

The 23rd World Energy Congress on 9–13 October in Istanbul, Turkey, will feature a discussion on hydropower’s role in a water-stressed world.

Richard Taylor

With the UN Sustainable Development Goals striving for the attainment of food security, access to clean water and modern energy services for all, water demand will inevitably increase. As the global community embarks on this path, the responsible management of freshwater resources is essential. The duel challenges are to harness synergies and to manage trade-offs across different sectors and regions.

Despite the inextricable link between water and energy, the common approach to managing policy and markets relating to these resources has been within separate silos and within separate countries. Integrated approaches are required to optimise the use of these resources, so that the uses complement rather than compete against each other. 

This approach becomes more important as climate change starts to have an impact on the global hydrological system, potentially, if not already, increasing extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.  

Approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in river basins that comprise two or more countries. And a similar proportion, many being the same people, are affected by water scarcity. Today's reality is that 1.7 billion people are living in river basins where water use is inefficient, and where water quality and availability are declining.

Multipurpose reservoirs that include hydropower are at the centre of the water–energy–food nexus. 

In terms of renewable electricity, these reservoirs store potential energy that can be released as base load, or by peaking operation, allowing power systems to match supply with demand, while also supporting other renewables through firming capacity and frequency and voltage regulation.

None of hydropower’s multipurpose benefits will be realised unless projects are built in the right place and in the right way."

At the same time multipurpose reservoirs can regulate flows for uses such as water supply, irrigation, flood control, environmental management and pollution control. The reservoirs themselves can provide for activities such as navigation, fisheries, recreation and, most recently, as areas for other forms of energy generation such as floating solar PV.

The challenge is in the optimisation of a reservoir's multiple services, while recognising that priorities may change over time.

None of hydropower’s multipurpose benefits will be realised unless projects are built in the right place and in the right way. Many opinions are involved in the planning process, and rarely is there a consensus on a specific project. Not all negative impacts can be avoided, and mitigation and compensation actions can be as important as the project itself.

Early stakeholder involvement is essential in the preparation stage, and management plans need to be cross-examined prior to decision-making. On the other hand, policies and markets must incentivise and reward multipurpose benefits. The current reality is that they do not.

Far greater accountability and transparency can be achieved today. Tools exist for measuring sustainability performance in the planning, preparation, implementation and operation stages. These will assist public- and private-sector involvement in a common understanding of expectations. With the right policies and markets, projects that provide complementary services, contributing positively to the water-energy-food nexus, can be realised. Risks and benefits can be shared in an equitable and realistic manner; public funds can be recycled; and, social acceptability can be achieved.

I will be one of the discussion leaders during a panel session discussing the role of multipurpose hydropower in a water-stressed world at the 23rd World Energy Congress 9-13 October in Istanbul, Turkey. 

The World Energy Council hosts the World Energy Congress, which is the world’s largest and most influential energy event covering all aspects of the energy agenda.

The session will discuss how the energy sector can best manage increasing competition for water resources, and will feature best-practice examples.  The role of regional integration for increasing the efficiency of both water and energy supply, and how this can support the future development of sustainable hydropower projects, will underpin the panel session.

You can find out more about the event here.