Across Europe, electricity demand recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Hydropower generation continues to be the leading source of renewable energy, with around 660 TWh generated across the continent. In the EU-27 countries, all renewables combined contributed 37 per cent of total electricity production last year, approximately matching the share of fossil fuels in the mix, with most of the remainder provided by nuclear. Repeating the pattern from 2020, new hydropower additions in 2021 were mainly in Turkey and Norway.
In response to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the European Commission has published plans to accelerate its transition to clean energy, both to reduce reliance on Russian gas imports and to help meet climate targets. In a speech made in March 2022, the President of the Commission emphasised the long-term need to switch to renewables, including hydropower.
Recent measures put forward under the REPowerEU plan will look to diversify gas supplies and speed up the rollout of renewable gases and power sources. This includes raising the EU’s renewable energy target to 45 per cent as part of the ambitious ‘Fit for 55’ package aiming to reduce emissions overall by 55 per cent by 2030 in comparison to 1990 levels. Progress continues to be made towards decarbonising the power sector, with a record 34 GW of new wind and solar added in 2021, reaching 350 GW total installed capacity.
Last year the Commission also published the EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act, defining the screening criteria for economic activities contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As part of reporting requirements for the 100gCO2c/kwh threshold, projects can use the G-res tool and IEA Hydro Framework. The criteria for hydropower were updated in line with the Water Framework Directive, but IHA and regional trade associations have issued calls for a clarification of terms to ensure consistency and appropriateness.
Hydropower will play an essential role in Europe’s energy transition, as has been recognised by the Commission and others such as IEA, IRENA, the International Forum on Pumped Hydropower Storage (IFPSH) and Hydropower Europe. IEA’s first Hydropower Special Market Report, published in 2021, forecasts around 8 per cent growth in total installed capacity in Europe by 2030, from greenfield hydropower projects as well as the modernisation and expansion of existing infrastructure.
Publications by the IEA, IFPSH and Hydropower Europe highlight the challenges in securing investment in new projects, and in particular how the lack of long-term revenue certainty can hinder new pumped hydro schemes. But as growth of wind and solar accelerates, hydropower is also receiving growing recognition for its vital storage and flexibility services to support a sustainable energy system, alongside its multipurpose benefits in water management and climate adaptation.
In 2021, Turkey commissioned approximately 500 MW of new hydropower capacity, half of which came from the new 250 MW Alpaslan II dam and hydropower plant. Its reservoir is among the ten largest in Turkey. The 58 MW Gürsögüt scheme was also completed last year, along with over 30 smaller-scale hydropower plants.
Norway, which has the largest installed hydropower fleet in Europe, increased its capacity by 396 MW in 2021, which included around 70 MW from upgrades at existing plants. Most of the 50+ new projects commissioned were small-scale hydro below 10 MW in size, in addition to the 62 MW Jølstra, 42 MW Tolga and 22 MW Herand larger hydropower stations. The small hydropower plants were completed in time to meet the deadline for green electricity certificates, a national subsidy scheme covering all renewable energy sources that came to an end in December 2021. Last year a change in the tax regime was also favourable to larger-scale hydropower developments in Norway.
In parallel to growth in renewable energy, another priority for the Nordic region has been building electricity interconnections with other European countries. 2021 saw the North Sea Link with the UK put into commercial operation, following the NordLink to Germany commissioned in 2020. The North Sea Link is the world’s longest subsea interconnector, developed under a joint venture between the respective Norwegian and UK system operators Statnett and National Grid. The project took six years to build and, when operating at maximum, allows 1,400 MW of power to be transferred between the countries. Depending on the weather conditions and power demand, the line will enable Norway to export electricity stored in its hydropower reservoirs to the UK and, when running in the other direction, UK to export excess wind generation to Norway. The project will play a key role in bolstering decarbonisation and system security across the North Sea.
Elsewhere in Western Europe, key milestones have been reached at the 1,158 MW Tâmega hydroelectric complex under construction in Portugal, comprising the Gouvães, Daivões and Alto Tâmega power stations. The first filling of the Daivões reservoir was completed, which when fully operational will include a 118 MW power station. The water body also acts as the lower reservoir to the Gouvães pumped storage station, which had the first of its four 220 MW turbines commissioned at the beginning of 2022. When complete, the Tâmega ‘giga battery’ will provide enough energy storage capacity to serve two million Portuguese households for an entire day. Two wind farms totalling 300 MW are also being developed to be linked to the Tâmega complex as a hybrid system.
In central Europe, the 17.5 MW Traunleiten hydropower plant was commissioned in Upper Austria, and further capacity was added through modernisations of current plants. The development of advanced pumped storage continues to be a focus in the region to support expected growth in variable wind and solar energy on the grid. For example, orders were announced last year for new variable-speed generators for the Kühtai 2 pumped storage power plant and Reisseck II pumped storage plant extension under development in Austria. Both projects will use modern full-size frequency converter technology for maximum operating range and flexibility. Orders were also placed to modernise three units at the 1,080 MW Coo-Trois-Ponts pumped storage plant in Belgium. Further east, last year a 324 MW unit was added at the Dnesiter pumped storage plant in Ukraine, raising the plant’s installed capacity to 1,296 MW.
New projects are also being planned; for example, the Swiss government has recently identified multiple new potential hydropower sites and opportunities for dam enlargements, which could offer up to 2 TWh additional hydroelectric production with minimal impact on biodiversity and the surrounding landscape. Other projects under development include the 160 MW Dabar hydropower scheme in Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of the proposed Gornji Horizonti 250 MW hydropower complex.