30/11/2020

New report explores hydropower's role in delivering a renewable, flexible power system

A major EU-funded energy innovation initiative to demonstrate how smart hydropower technologies can deliver a low-carbon, reliable and resilient power system today publishes its first major report.

Flexible energy sources such as renewable hydropower are increasingly important to balance growing variable sources, primarily wind and solar power, in the power grid. Meanwhile decarbonisation efforts are leading to the decommissioning of fossil-fuel plants. Both these factors are reducing the capacity of grid operators to provide regulating power to ensure the continuous load-generation balance necessary for grid stability.

The changing energy mix requires new short-term flexibility and system support services, known as ancillary services, which the XFLEX HYDRO initiative is demonstrating can be provided by new hydropower technologies.

The initiative’s first report, titled ‘Flexibility, technologies and scenarios for hydropower’, is by the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) with contributions from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), Power Vision Engineering (PVE), SuperGrid Institute, the International Hydropower Association (IHA), EDP Centre for New Energy Technologies (EDP CNET) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

In total, 19 organisations are collaborating on the XFLEX HYDRO initiative which aims to show how more flexible hydropower facilities can help countries to meet their renewable energy targets. The €18m four-year project was launched in December 2019 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Focused on seven demonstration sites across Portugal, France and Switzerland, it will conclude in 2023 with a series of policy and market recommendations.

The report published today assesses the future ancillary services expected to be required by the European power grid, the technical requirements for each of these and the corresponding markets.

To evaluate the degree to which the XFLEX HYDRO demonstrated technologies and improvements can deliver these ancillary services, a new Ancillary Services Matrix has been developed by INESC TEC. The Matrix will help inform industry stakeholders of the emerging opportunities for hydropower plants in relation to these ancillary services.

Prof. Carlos Moreira, Senior Researcher at INESC TEC, commented: “The main challenge for the future European power system consists in defining how it will be operated and kept stable with a high share of variable renewables and a reduced amount of dispatchable fossil-fuel power plants.

“It is of the upmost importance to develop power system flexibility and the associated ancillary services required. Due to their already flexible capabilities, hydroelectric power plants will have a leading role in managing the growing need for flexibility in the system.”

The XFLEX HYDRO initiative could see demonstrated technologies and systems being deployed at new, planned and existing hydropower facilities around the world. In Europe alone, existing hydropower capacity is expected to grow by around 50 GW over the next two decades, based on future scenarios published by the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E). In addition, over 125 GW of existing capacity may need to be refurbished or modernised, creating significant opportunities for upgrades.

“The market potential for the flexibility technologies and methods being demonstrated in XFLEX HYDRO could be significant,” added Prof. Moreira.

According to the report published today, ancillary services likely to be required by power grids include fast frequency response, synchronous inertia, synthetic inertia, frequency containment reserve and automatic frequency restoration reserve.

“Several key performance indicators (KPIs) have in addition been defined to quantify each hydro plant’s flexibility, focusing on operations and maintenance enhancement,” said Dr. Elena Vagnoni, scientist and lecturer at EPFL, which is coordinating and monitoring the XFLEX HYDRO demonstrations.

“This is being presented in a KPIs Matrix, expected to clearly highlight at a glance the potential of each technology demonstrated, including their potential for integration across the European hydropower fleet,” she added.

A four-page summary of the report, as well as the full report, are available on the XFLEX HYDRO website.

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