Sustainability and Acceptability of Hydropower as Part of the Clean Energy Transition

September 2nd, 2021: 9.30am - 11.00am CEST

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A fundamental challenge of the energy transition is the cost-effective integration of variable renewables and assurance of the security of supply. This session showed how pumped and storage hydropower can address environmental and social issues more sustainably.

The main goal, of the Sustainable Energy Day session, was to address hydro-generated environmental and social impacts and to underline hydropower’s role in the sustainable energy transition. To achieve common climate goals, storage hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower shall play an essential role in balancing variable renewable energy sources and to ensure reliability of the electricity supply.

To demonstrate that hydro has a place within the SET-Plan, the session involved policy-makers, the energy sector players and environmental organisations in discussions about successful case studies, provided by hydropower, as well as with a wider audience working on the transition towards a clean energy society.

The session started with a brief introduction followed by keynote speakers. The panel discussion was initiated and moderated by the experts on the topic. During the keynotes and the debate, the audience was encouraged to give input through interactive polls, commenting, and asking questions.


9:30 Event Introduction (Anton Schleiss)
9:35 Technical Matters (Mark Morris)
9:40 Introducing the Speakers, followed by Speaker Presentations (Session Chair: Ole Gunnar Dalhaugh)
10:40 Questions and discussion with the audience Lead by Raffaele Guerini & Jean-Jacques Fry
11:00 Interactive Poll on key speaker statements   
11:10 Conclusions  Lead by Anton Schleiss & Ole Gunnar Dalhaugh
11:15 Close  


The speakers presented on the following topics:

Berit Köhler, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway:
Dr. Berit Köhler is a social science researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and coordinates currently the EERA Sub-program 5 “Social acceptance, engagement and policy”.  For her doctoral degree she studied social sustainability aspects of ecological river restoration in Switzerland. After moving to Norway, she has worked on social acceptance issues related to hydropower in the Interdisciplinary Norwegian National Research Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN) and the Norwegian Research Centre for Hydropower Technology (HYDROCEN), two of the National Centers for Environment-friendly Energy Research.
Social acceptance of hydropower in the clean energy transition
Agnès Barillier, EDF, France:
After her PhD at CEMAGREF, Agnès Barillier carried out environmental impact studies of hydraulic projects in a consulting firm; she then joined the EDF hydraulic engineering centre in 2001. Specialised in environmental assessment and ecological restoration of rivers, she leads R&D programmes on these subjects, always in direct connection with operational hydroelectric projects; for example, since 2001, Agnès has been leading all the ecological studies relating to rhenan alluvial biodiversity restoration measures associated with the renewal of the Kembs hydroelectric scheme. She is also working on the assessment of hydropeaking impacts and on locally adapted measures to mitigate them.
Aligning hydropower and environmental issues – some examples of successful practice
Staffan Lundström, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden: 
Staffan Lundström has been an active researcher in the area of hydropower since 2000 and is currently member of the Executive board and leader WP5 (Social Acceptance and Mitigation of Environmental Impact) in Hydroflex an H2020 project, coordinator  of SP4 in EERA JP Hydropower (Water resources, environmental impacts and climate adaptation), university manager and main applicant of Swedish Hydropower Centre (SVC) and serves as Academic Backbone of the “111 Project” Discipline Innovation and Research Base on River Network Hydrodynamics System and Safety” at Hohai University, China. He has been the main supervisor of 20 students that completed their PhD studies, and additional 7 students who have taken the Licentiate degree and has guided 9 young researchers. He has evaluated 15 positions at Universities in three countries and more than 40 PhD-thesis in 10 countries. He has contributed to more than 300 scientific papers of which more than 160 in in journals with peer review system.
Mitigation of environmental impact from flexible hydropower
Nuno Portal, EDP Produção, Portugal:
Nuno Portal works in EDP Group, the larger electricity company in Portugal, with a relevant operation in more 19 other countries. Nuno Portal is currently the Sustainability director of EDP – Gestão da Produção de Energia, SA., one of the EDP Group Companies which produces and distributes electric energy in Portugal. He has a great experience in all processes related with environment and social approvals of new Hydro Power Schemes, as well as in environmental maintenance of Hydropower and Thermal Plants.
Sustainability challenges in hydropower projects: past, present and future


Main findings:

Berit Köhler, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway
Ms Köhler started by detailing the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of hydropower at different levels, where the perception at local community level is usually the one which creates the most problems to successfully implement hydropower projects. For this reason, she stressed the importance on the research of social acceptance to avoid unnecesary conflicts, promote social sustainability and the clean energy transition of the region.

Agnès Barillier, EDF, France
Ms Barillier presented us with some successful examples where the environmental impact of hydropower had been mitigated. She concluded that it was imperative to work with stakeholders and have a long-term commitment in order to reduce it.

Staffan Lundström, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden
Mr Lundström expressed that, without mitigation technology, there is a risk that the increasing regulation affects the environment and the society in a negative way. In this sense, flexible hydropower can have a key role in environmental mitigation.

Nuno Portal, EDP Produção, Portugal 
Mr Portal made an overview of EDP Produção 's history and the challenges he has faced during the years that he has worked there. He expressed his concern about the 2050 challenges. To name one: it is foreseen that the demand of electricity will triple, and this will need to be achieved with zero-carbon emission technologies.

Poll on provocative statements

At the end of the presentations, the participants responded to nine questions that had been prepared by the speakers in the form of polls (1 do not agree -  10 strongly agree):

  1. The social acceptance of hydropower could be a critical bottleneck in the clean energy transition. - 43% marked 8
  2. The local environmental impacts of hydropower production have not been taken seriously enough - 24% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  3. It is necessary to find optimised solutions for both, hydropower production, the local environment and the people living in the area - 86% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  4. A developer should abandon a project if mitigation of ecological issues has no local acceptance - shared majority of 21% between 10 and 8
  5. An operator must be commited to continuous improvements in the preservation of the local environment - 55% marked 10 (strongly agree)
  6. Highly flexible hydropower is beneficial for the ecosystem in a regulated river - shared majority (34%) between 8 and 5, this one meaning unsure.
  7. Effects from a highly flexible hydropower can be mitigated - 33% maked 8, followed by 23% of 10, and a noticeable 17% of unsure (5)
  8. Hydropower projects still have an important role in the switch to renewable energy - 69% marked strongly agree (10)
  9. In a very demanding environment, related with the energy transition and the Climate Change process, Hydropower projects will maintain a significant importance in electricity production in the future - 59% marked strongly agree (10)

Closing remarks

Anton Schleiss and Ole Gunnar Dalhaugh took the responsibility of making some final remarks: 

Presentations have shown that hydropower will have a key role in the energy transition, but there are some challenges to be addressed. More research and awareness about flexibility, social acceptance, especially local constraints, and environmental mitigation are what will make the role of hydropower evolve. Mr Schleiss concluded: "It is always the goal to create a win-win situation, even if it takes a long time to achieve that among all the stakeholders"

Event Recording