Oh How Far We’ve Come!

As HydroVision International, the world’s largest hydropower event, celebrates 20 years, we take a look back to see how far it’s come and learn some of the factors that have contributed to its success.

By Bethany Duarte

When the great philosopher Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future,” he was not referring to the hydro industry or conferences and exhibitions. The quote rings true, however, especially when considering the “20-year strong” history of HydroVision International.

As we take the time to celebrate this great milestone, we also are looking back on our history and, specifically, the individual components and behind-the-scenes work that have made HydroVision International THE hydropower event to attend every year.

Laying the foundation

Like any great piece of infrastructure, the foundation of HydroVision International has played an important role in its success and longevity over the past two decades.

Created in 1994 as a more relaxed, informal alternative to other hydro events in the market, HydroVision International started off with the unique approach of bringing all sectors of the industry and those regulating and/or opposing the industry together to share the lessons learned from the previous year, while casting fresh vision for the year to come. Courtesy of its unique atmosphere, the event has been described by past attendees as a prime environment for connection and collaboration between the knowledge-seekers and the product and service suppliers. In the early years, this resembled networking events held poolside in the blistering Phoenix heat or wine tasting in tennis shoes and hard hats during a hydro plant technical tour in California, mixed with technical paper sessions and six distinct conference tracks with expert panelists discussing the hot topics of the year.

Since 1994, HydroVision International has been held in many major cities, including Phoenix, Orlando, Sacramento, Louisville, Denver and Nashville.
Since 1994, HydroVision International has been held in many major cities, including Phoenix, Orlando, Sacramento, Louisville, Denver and Nashville.

Long-time HydroVision International attendee and steering committee veteran Michael Murphy of TRC recalls his first time at the event in 1996, “when the group was still small enough, we could all fit in one hotel. Maybe we had a little more than a thousand at that point, but now we’ve grown!”

Over the past two decades, the event has grown dramatically, with overall attendance increasing from 900 in 1994 to 3,100 in 2013, with even more expected to be present this year. We started off with 77 exhibitors in 1994, a number that has grown to more than 300 exhibiting companies this year.

Simply put, HydroVision International is bigger than ever.

With a well-balanced mix of conference session tracks and exhibition opportunities for product and service providers, it has become the hub for learning, networking, marketing and business building, all under one roof.

“HydroVision is the most efficient way to catch up with industry associates, make new contacts and learn about industry innovations across a broad spectrum of interests,” says Michael Bahleda, vice president of Bahleda Management and Consulting LLC and track facilitator for the policies and regulations track.

Stanley Hayes, vice president of MWH Global and veteran attendee of the event, put it this way: “HydroVision International [is] unsurpassed in offering wide-ranging technical content for professional development; opportunities for collaboration and networking with a truly international mix of hydropower professionals; and exciting prospects for future projects and work.”

Attendees cite the following as valuable to them:

– The ever-increasing number of co-located workshops and meetings being held on Monday and Tuesday and 70 unique conference sessions occurring on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday;

– A dynamic exhibit floor; and

– Networking events providing priceless opportunities for connection and collaboration.

David Youlen, executive vice president of development at Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, has been at all the HydroVision events except for one. He noted the tremendous growth from the first event to the present, as well as the fun memories of handing out prizes during conference sessions, wearing shorts and golf shirts as panelists, and performing skits in hard hats and with large paper tools in hand at the opening keynote. “I have loyalty to this event, which is very important to the industry,” he says.

Another of these loyal attendees is engineer Lee Sheldon, who proudly told me last year that he still had each and every attendee bag distributed at HydroVision International since the beginning.

Marla Barnes, then with HCI Publications, and other attendees look over documentation on a plant tour at the first HydroVision International in 1994.
Marla Barnes, then with HCI Publications, and other attendees look over documentation on a plant tour at the first HydroVision International in 1994.

From the drawing table

Perhaps one of the largest contributors to the success of HydroVision International over the years, specifically on the conference side of the building, is the work done almost a year in advance by the Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee was first brought together in 1993 to develop content for the 1994 event, held in Phoenix. The group was composed of the proverbial “minds” of the industry, representing power producers, equipment and service suppliers, environmental and engineering firms, developers, legislators and other players in the market. They met for a day-long meeting to project the hydro “vision” for the following year. Out of these discussions came detailed conference tracks and sessions, as well as suggestions for the best speakers to tackle each topic.

“The process and format was refreshing as it encouraged new ways to develop the program and to conduct the sessions,” says Youlen, who is one of the longest-serving members of the committee. Twenty years later, this model is still being used to develop the rich and informative content offered at HydroVision International.

The 2015 Steering Committee already met (in May 2014 in Portland, Ore., the location of next year’s event). Following that meeting, Conference Committee Chair Elizabeth Ingram expressed why, of all the meetings she attends and participates in, this one is her favorite: “More than 50 influential, experienced, respected hydro industry representatives walk into a room and sit down together before a blank slate. Literally. We have not done any planning work in advance of this meeting. They then spend the next couple of hours brainstorming hot topics in their respective conference tracks. What’s coming down the pike? What are hydro industry members going to be facing with regard to, for example, civil works and dam safety next July?”

By the end, committee members have selected the seven panel presentation sessions for each of the seven HydroVision International tracks. The steering committee members continue to work together from their remote locations to refine the session descriptions, recruit moderators and panelists, and pull together sessions that will both attract and educate those in attendance.

Bahleda has been on the HydroVision International Steering Committee since 2000. “From the first energetic planning meetings throughout the preparation, I’m impressed with the enthusiasm people bring to the process and the desire to share information and discuss the big issues facing the industry,” he says.

In addition to these panel discussion sessions, the conference also features a technical papers program, in which another group of industry technical experts pore over hundreds of abstracts submitted by hydro professionals and select the “cream of the crop” for presentation in either an oral presentation or a visual display in the Poster Gallery. This element of the conference program ensures a venue in the industry for bringing forward cutting-edge technology advances and innovations. Such technical information-sharing is vital to the growth of the industry, Conference Committee Chair Ingram said.

Technical tours of hydropower plants near the event site have always been an important component of HydroVision International.
Technical tours of hydropower plants near the event site have always been an important component of HydroVision International.

Casting the vision

The tremendous growth in attendees and overall scope of the event over the past 20 years has been an exciting progression.

“I attended the first HydroVision in Phoenix, 20 years ago, and seeing how far HydroVision and the industry have come since then is fantastic,” says Carl Atkinson, director of sales and marketing at Voith Hydro Inc..

Every year, the organizers of HydroVision International seek to add new elements to the event New for 2014 is:

– A Power Producer Training Program – for employees of utilities, power producers, electric cooperatives, power-producing municipalities, government agencies, and Crown corporations.

– The Women with Hydro Vision Awards Program and Luncheon, to recognize women who have made and/or are continuing to make significant contributions to the hydro industry by sharing their unique talents and “vision” to improve and advance various sectors of the industry.

– Exhibitor Showcase – scheduled demonstrations in specific booths on the exhibit floor at specific times.

Event Director Marla Barnes also points to the objective of making HydroVision International the “gathering place” for all things hydro each year. “We want to make attending this event efficient and productive for all concerned. Having a week of activities, organized by both PennWell and other industry groups, from which attendees can pick and choose allows them to get the most ‘bang for the buck’ in one week.”

HydroVision International is truly a “hydro week,” with offerings as far-ranging as the traditional exhibition and conference sessions to a 5K fun run (the “Turbine Runner 5K”). In between those extremes are seven membership meetings organized by various associations; six workshops organized by the Hydro Training Institute, Pioneer Motor Bearing Company, Iris Power, VibroSystM, the Hydro Research Foundation, and EPRI; three technical tours of hydroelectric plants in Tennessee and Kentucky; and a golf tournament. There’s bound to be “something for everyone.”

Another 20 years

When asked about where the “next 20 years” will lead for HydroVision International, Barnes says: “I think an annual get-together for the hydro industry is vital. There’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye, shaking his or her hand, and having face-to-face discussions that can lead to new business, new ideas, and new solutions. My desire is for our team to listen to the marketplace and deliver an event that creates an atmosphere for people… no matter their age, gender, location or subject interest … to gather together to share insights and discuss the most pressing challenges of the day and find solutions they can take home and put into place to improve their day-to-day work.”

She also wants the event to continue to change and evolve to meet the needs of the marketplace, and to help hydro professionals look forward … beyond the immediacy. “The ‘vision’ part of HydroVision is what makes this event unique,” Barnes said. “It’s important for the event to address immediate information and business needs, but also to be a place for anyone working in hydro to get a glimpse of what may be coming around the next corner, what will be the challenges and the opportunities in store for them. Twenty years from now, I want this event and this industry to continue to be looking forward.”

Bethany Duarte is associate editor of Hydro Review and track facilitator of the Wave, Tidal and In-Stream Power panel presentation track at HydroVision International 2014.

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