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What's In Store for Hydropower in 2013?

This is one of those questions that you really need a crystal ball to answer. Hydropower is a dynamic industry that is constantly growing and changing. So what is on the horizon for this industry as we ring in 2013? The below list is by no means comprehensive and is just a snapshot of anticipated global hydro industry activity.

One of the situations I am most interested in watching play out in 2013 is how Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s ambitious energy sector tax reforms ultimately affect hydropower in the country. Rousseff announced these reforms — intended to reduce residential customer rates by as much as 16.2% and industrial electricity prices by 19.7% to 28% — in September, and they took effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Rousseff says these reforms will help Brazil face the uncertainty of the world’s current global economic situation, decrease energy production costs, improve the country’s international standing, slow inflation, encourage investment, boost business productivity, increase employment and guarantee growth.

As a result of these reforms, power sector auctions originally scheduled for 2012 were postponed to 2013. And news sources indicate Brazilian utilities have lost more than $15 billion in market value as investors sold off shares. Then, in December, several utilities refused to accept the government’s terms, meaning they did not accept contracts for concessions expiring in 2015 to 2017. This decision left an unclaimed 10.2 GW of the 25.4 GW of hydro generating capacity up for renewal.

It will be interesting to see if the president’s goals can be realized and how they will alter the landscape for hydropower in Brazil.

In the United States, the looming “fiscal cliff” monopolized lawmakers’ attention at the end of 2012, leaving several bills favorable to hydropower to be reconsidered in 2013. Among these are:

  • Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, H.R. 2842, which will provide blanket authorization for installation of small hydropower on all Reclamation-owned canals and conduits; require Reclamation to offer preference to water use organizations for the development of such projects under a Lease of Power Privilege; and more.
  • Saving Our Dams and Hydropower Development and Jobs Act of 2012, H.R. 6247, which will declare that hydropower is a renewable energy source; prohibit federal funding from being used to remove, breach or study the removal or breaching of any hydropower dam unless explicitly authorized by Congress; advance new hydropower through new water storage by allowing non-federal parties to complete studies and finance projects; and more.
  • Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012, H.R. 5892, which will increase the development of small hydropower and conduit projects by directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process.

Passage of any one of these pieces of legislation could have a significant role in moving forward new hydropower development in the U.S. In fact, in a promising development, the U.S. Congress passed a one-year extension of renewable energy tax incentives on January 2.

For Europe, I am looking forward to continued growth in the ocean/tidal/stream power markets. There are so many European countries working hard to advance this market, 2013 seems ripe for some major progress in this arena. Just a few of the European companies and organizations that are focusing on this emerging hydropower sector include:

  • Scotrenewables Tidal Power Limited of Scotland, which just received a US$14.36 million financing package for its tidal turbine;
  • European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland, which is collaborating with several Asian universities and institutes to develop a marine energy test center in Taiwan;
  • Minesto of the United Kingdom, which is working to install a 1:4 test unit of its Deep Green tidal and ocean current technology;
  • Tocardo International of the Netherlands, which is partnering with equipment manufacturer Huisman to commercialize its hydrokinetic turbine technology; and
  • Open Hydro of Ireland, which is working with Irish utility Bord Gais to develop a 100-MW tidal energy farm. 

In Africa for 2013, I expect to see continued growth in the region’s hydroelectric development and capacity. Many countries have recently announced plans to develop new hydro facilities, such as 3,050-MW Mambila and 700-MW Zungeru on the Northern Zingeru River in Nigeria; a 450-MW plant on the Katsina-Ala River in the Republic of Cameroon; and the 32-MW Jiji and 17-MW Mulembwe projects in Burundi. Other countries, such as Zimbabwe, are working to upgrade and expand existing hydroelectric stations.

In addition, work is progressing on many hydro projects under construction, including the 120-MW Itezhi-Tezhi project in Zambia, where construction began in 2011. In December 2012, Zambian President Michael Sata directed state-owned Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation Ltd. to increase its hydropower development with a goal of improving access to electricity and thus boosting the country’s economy. I expect more announcements of this nature in 2013 in Africa.

PennWell’s hydro group is so enthusiastic about the potential for hydropower in Africa, we are launching the HydroVision Africa event, which will take place for the first time in March 2014. This event will be co-located with POWER-GEN Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. We are still in the early planning stages of this exciting new event; more details will be available later in 2013.

I also anticipate Asia will continue to be a hotbed of hydro development activity in 2013. Similar to Africa, many hydro projects are being studied or are under construction in the region. Just a few of the many examples include 4,320-MW Dasu on the Indus River in Pakistan; 444-MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti on the Alaknanda River in India; 1,285-MW Xayaburi on the Mekong River in Laos; and 400-MW Lower Sesan 2 on the Sesan River in Cambodia. 

What about you? What do you see as the hot hydropower trends for 2013 worldwide? Let me know if your vision differs from mine.

Lead image: Globe on water via Shutterstock

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