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In Brazil, hydropower operators are getting better at production planning

The job of hydropower operators is to manage water: from energy production to the protection of aquatic species, irrigation and industrial processes, a number of constraints influence their decisions on a daily basis. Failing to meet contractual arrangements, particularly with regard to environmental protection, can result in financial penalties and unsustainable practices. Optimal Energy, a Brazilian start-up supported by industrial software company Enacom, has come to the assistance of operators with a software solution that helps plan electricity dispatch based on multiple internal and external constraints.

Every day, in Brazil, the national power system operator issues requests for next-day power supply to energy operators. The majority of operators responding to these requests are hydropower plant owners: more than 66% of the country's electricity is produced with water.

For these operators, providing electricity is a delicate balancing act. They have to take into consideration factors such as water levels in the reservoir, water inflow, downstream flows etc. Providing the optimal amount of power without compromising other environmental and social needs is an exercise that requires dexterity and an expert use of the data at hand.

Already used across 18 power stations in Brazil, representing 10% of the country's installed capacity, Hydropower Optimizer promises to make this task simpler for plant operators. This is significant because day-to-day production planning is taking place in a particularly sensitive context in Brazil: since the end of the 1990’s the country has experienced regular droughts and every drop of water is precious. Optimal Energy, the company behind Hydropower Optimizer, estimates that 46.7hm3 of water and about USD 500,000 are being saved every month at the 387-MW Tres Marias hydropower plant, where the software tool is being used.

With the help of reference values (turbine flow or power, for ex.), the tool simulates plant operation and is able to suggest a more efficient use for each generating unit for every given hour and every characteristic of the reservoir; a distinct advantage over other existing models. A key feature of the optimiser is a visual warning system that indicates a potential violation of restrictions. It offers options to correct the course of action and ensure compliance with regulations.

Notwithstanding the benefits for the environment, Optimal Energy is confident that meeting the electrical, physical and operational constraints of the power plant more accurately and more rapidly yields significant savings in operating cost. In markets where energy is sold over-the-counter, such as the USA, the tool could improve profitability by allowing operators to programme production and sell hourly. Market needs can be factored into the optimal outcome suggested by the optimiser.

In a fast-moving energy and regulatory environment, Hydropower Optimizer shows that improvements continue to be made by energy operators around the world every day. Luckily, solutions are shared more easily than ever.

A screenshot shows the dashboard of Hydropower Optimizer

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