Trade Exhibition in Salzburg (©, C.Hahn)

Small Hydropower Increasingly Buoyant

The 10th International Forum for Small Hydropower, held along with an exhibition at Salzburg AG in late September, clearly indicated this trend

The two-day seminar, which was organised by the Regensburg-based Ostbayerisches Technologie-Transfer-Institut (OTTI) in conjunction with the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA) and Salzburg AG – the latter itself also operates ten small hydropower (SHP) plants – was dedicated to a hot topic: the exploding energy prices. While the latter were a great burden for end users, they were also a welcome incentive for power plant operators to optimise existing facilities and engage in new projects, OTTI Vice CEO Eckardt Günther explained with a view to the forum’s motives.

The Water Framework Directive would necessitate more information and debate, he said, and a concerted effort was required to ensure the optimal implementation of the latter. Günther also stressed that OTTI’s International Forum for Small Hydropower had developed into an acknowledged platform of information exchange between planners, technology developers, SHP plant operators and authorities over the years and praised the industry’s innovative power.

“Raising awareness would be mostly important in the public sector, but here in Salzburg unfortunately it just didn’t work”, complained ESHA President Bernhard Pelikan about the disappointing absence of local, regional and federal government officials. For the university lecturer at BOKU Vienna, the reason was not a lack of interest, but rather the excessive cuts in employee travel expenditures.

What government officials clearly missed out on were the complaints voiced by SHP representatives for not being adequately involved in the preparations for the Austrian Hydropower Master Plan. They also missed a presentation in which a fine example (Salzburg AG) for the successful amalgamation of drinking water and hydropower industry concerns was given, and an exhibition abounding in innovation so that it didn’t even matter that input largely came from within the industry itself.

Bernhard Pelikan also identified deficits in connection with the Master Plan, which in terms of eco-energy constitutes an important pool of data on hydropower. The Hydropower Master Plan of Tyrol had already revealed that the applied methods were still “inaccurate”. “This is quite problematic, considering that the nation-wide Master Plan – which it should NOT be by definition – tends to be regarded as a tool on which to base decisions regarding potential new SHP projects”, said Pelikan.

The expert announced, on behalf of ESHA, that they would seek to avoid such “malinterpretations” in the future by working even closer together with the large hydropower association EUELECTRIC. He also proposed establishing a work group on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) – especially when the debate was about the “forbidden rivers”.

As regards the current evaluation of unexploited hydropower potential in Austria, the expert assumed that in the capacity range between 5 and 10 MW such potential would be relatively easy to identify. There was also potential below that level, but investigating the latter would mean risking to get too close to concrete projects. According to Bernhard Pelikan, the foremost – and also reasonable – goal of the Austrian Ministry of Environment (BMLFUW) was to provide Brussels with reliable figures; but it was just as important to avoid financial penalties, which Austria would have to pay to the EU if it failed to meet the renewable energy targets.

Host Gerald Tscherne, Head of Salzburg AG’s power plant division, began his speech by defending a decentralised power supply, something especially SHP facilities would cater for. Only by combining the latter with centralised supply systems could a proper functioning of the economy be guaranteed. Tscherne – who also gave a presentation on eco-friendly storage capacity management – said that under certain conditions, his enterprise could easily “bear with” both the WFD and the Austrian Hydropower Master Plan.

But in case the WFD provisions were too restrictively implemented, this could result in up to 10 % of the annual cost of Salzburg AG. He would welcome a Master Plan if the latter was to establish “clear boundary conditions for business activities”. But because the current licensing procedures were pretty complex already, he would oppose too strict definitions on what was permitted and where and when it was permitted.

Fears of a comprehensive watercourse regulation scheme were unsubstantiated, Gerald Tscherne said, as the industry had learnt a lesson; his enterprise would moreover focus on the revitalisation of existing plants. What the hydropower expert did demand, however, was equal criteria for licensing procedures and an Austrian Hydropower Master Plan without too many restrictions as, after all, SHP know-how was in perpetual motion.

This could be evidenced by 184 experts from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain and the Czech Republic – including those in the 25 exhibition stands – who attended the OTTI Seminar in Salzburg. The best paper presentations were honoured by the jury. Bernhard Pelikan and OTTI are determined to continue their awareness-raising efforts.

Apart from traditionally fostering the reshape or redesign of old plants, the SHP experts also want to see increasing involvement from public officials as well as from mayors, who should be encouraged to start looking for existing SHP potentials in their communities. The next OTTI Seminar on hydropower, scheduled to take place in Luzerne in September 2008, will be a good opportunity to take another run!

(Source: aqua press 4/2007, Mag. Christof Hahn)

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