Voices of Hydropower: Tobias Keitel

In the “Voices of Hydro” series, hydropower industry leaders provide insights on opportunities and challenges within the sector and the measures their organisations are taking to advance sustainability. These stories shed light on the people who keep our lights on, supply affordable energy and protect communities from floods and droughts.

This edition features Voith Hydro CEO and President Tobias Keitel, who discusses the importance of refurbishment, sustainability and flexibility in the hydropower sector.

Why is the refurbishment of the hydropower fleet so important?  

As the original renewable energy technology, hydropower faces the challenge of an ageing fleet. Almost half of its global capacity (630 GW) is over 30 years of age and almost 40% of the capacity (490 GW) over 40 years old. As a result, we have to prepare for not only the extended lifetime of the fleet but must also upgrade it for various industry challenges such as the effects of climate change.  

Hydropower is not only the first renewable energy source but is also a ‘forever’ technology. A typical hydropower facility can have an operating life of more than a hundred years when maintained regularly. However, the performance and reliability of components decrease as the stations age, impacting output, revenue and safety. Therefore, modernisation programmes, from repairing and replacing components to implementing innovative technologies, represent a significant opportunity for existing hydropower infrastructure to provide benefits such as optimised power production through improved efficiency or capacity additions, optimised operations and maintenance (O&M), enhanced flexibility and water services at multipurpose hydropower sites.

Bringing our hydropower plants up to modern standards helps increase the clean energy supply worldwide. This can be done with various modernisation concepts such as rehabilitation, upgrades and optimised automation. Voith Hydro offers innovative refurbishment services worldwide, delivering a wide range of technology services and advanced equipment. For instance, the HyService portfolio covers everything from spare parts down to complex overhauls as well as automation and digital technology. As sustainable hydropower is the backbone of the clean energy mix, comprehensive service is crucial to meeting net zero ambitions. Voith Hydro is proud to play a part in what is the greatest challenge of our lifetime: combatting climate change.  

How can we ensure hydropower is sustainable?

While hydropower’s potential is vast, it must be deployed in the right way with communities and the environment in mind. At Voith Hydro, we consistently put our sustainability performance to the test with a goal to improve the environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects of our hydropower operations. Being a proven and mature technology that combines unrivalled efficiency with reliability and low emissions, sustainable hydropower is essential to decarbonising heavy industries and supporting a low-carbon economy.  

Voith Hydro offers diverse solutions to limit the environmental and social impacts of hydropower operations. For instance, to mitigate hydropower plants impacts on the sediment continuity of rivers and the accumulation of sediment in the reservoirs we have developed the SedimentCareProgram which combines a sustainable and uninterrupted hydropower station with a continuous sediment transfer. This allows plant operators to enjoy increased productivity of hydropower stations and reservoirs over the entire life cycle. Sediment management therefore plays a significant role in ensuring the only hydropower is sustainable hydropower.  

What is the role of hydropower in the clean energy transition?

Hydropower provides the flexibility, reliability and stability that is needed to enable variable renewables such as wind and solar to be developed at scale. When other renewables’ generation fluctuates, hydropower’s flexibility acts as a stabilising force, acting as the backbone of the energy transition. With the right combination of policy frameworks, market mechanisms and government will, it has the potential to supercharge the drive towards net zero.  

The hydropower sector and Voith Hydro are enabling the clean energy transition by ensuring that intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are reliable. Voith Hydro has a long history in the renewable energy sector with more than 150 years of expertise. We will continue to support hydropower development for the next 150 years throughout the whole life cycle of the hydropower plant including building, rehabilitating and servicing the plant. When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, hydropower ensures a stable energy supply and provides diverse benefits from protection against floods and droughts to affordable electricity.

Learn more about Voith Hydro here.

Watch Tobias' interview here.

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