When the United Nations (UN) developed the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries expanded their reliance on renewable energy. As clean electricity production rates rose, professionals evaluated the limitations of each system, including hydropower. In turn, hydropower can enhance the sustainability of energy development by adopting smart technology.
Challenges in the Hydropower Sector
Smart technological advancements challenge some of hydropower’s electricity production limitations. Conventional energy development practices rely on local hydrology. Weather patterns and regional precipitation levels impact a river’s flow, altering a hydropower system’s ability to generate enough electricity.
Another production challenge revolves around the cost of building and maintaining plants. Construction professionals must often build dams, reservoirs, and turbines at facilities. The material and labor costs add up, increasing the price of projects and renewable electricity.
Hydropower plants also have some sustainability limitations. Facility elements, like dams and turbines, may interfere with aquatic habitats. Over time, the impacts can cause biodiversity challenges, increasing marine species endangerment.
Environmental engineers evaluated the ecological challenges with hydropower plants and developed sustainable solutions. They created smart technology using the Internet of Things (IoT). Before assessing the five reasons the hydropower industry should increasingly leverage these advancements, we must explore the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) survey.
The IHA Survey
The IHA conducted an assessment this year regarding technological advancements on-site. Nearly 67% of the participants expect to use smart technology at plants soon. Over half of the respondents also hope to use sustainable devices, like hydro-batteries and variable-speed turbines, in the future.
Individuals also express demand for hydropower systems. Manufacturing professionals responded to the demand with the Xflex Hydro project. Part of the project involves the Smart Power Plant Supervisor system, a potential template for future energy infrastructure development.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalization are supporting the solar and wind sectors. Their success with other renewable energy systems increases their potential success in the hydropower industry. There are five ways smart technology can improve waterpower production.
1. Ability to Meet Consumer Needs
Last year, Americans used nearly 3,802 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Researchers predict the demand will increase as society adopts more sustainable devices and systems. Green technologies like electric cars rely on abundant electricity sources, reducing tailpipe emissions.
Other eco-friendly devices, like electric water heaters and stoves, increase the demand for hydropower. Smart technology can monitor and maintain production systems, increasing the quantity and reliability of emission-free electricity.
2. The Support for the Electric Grid
Individuals also want to integrate smart technology, supporting the clean electric grid. When President Biden took office, he established a plan to produce nearly all U.S. energy from renewable sources. Hydropower plants can contribute electricity to the grid when using improved turbine part-load range technology.
3. Enhance the Flexibility of Water Systems
Workers additionally support the adoption of smart hydropower systems for fixability enhancements. Some plants struggle to meet energy demands because of inadequately run systems. IoT tech offers continuous pump control, responding to real-time electricity needs.
The technology also reduces the overproduction of electricity and resource exploitation.
4. Improve the Sustainability of Hydropower
The Smart Power Plant Supervisor system, mentioned earlier, improves a plant’s longevity and reduces errors on-site. When facilities minimize error, they conserve resources and enhance surface-level conservation. They also reduce the energy sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, decreasing the enhanced greenhouse effect.
Water professions are also using other smart technologies to conserve vital resources. Environmental engineers and scientists developed an autonomous system for converting wastewater into clean drinking water. The reclamation technology treats residential sink, laundry, bath, and stormwater into a non-potable resource, decreasing society’s over-extraction of freshwater.
Hydropower professionals can combine the two technologies to create an even more sustainable renewable energy system.
5. Increase Renewable Energy’s Affordability
As America develops more clean energy, its cost decreases compared to fossil fuels. Today, individuals can access hydroelectricity for as little as $0.020 per kWh. Smart technology can additionally minimize labor costs and material waste, improving the cost-efficiency of renewable electricity.
On the Horizon
Researchers predict new technological advancements will reach the hydropower sector in the coming years. They expect professionals to develop pump hydropower storage (PHS) technology, expanding the quantity and reliability of clean energy. Additionally, they predict environmental engineers will implement fish-friendly technology at plants, further increasing the sustainability of production.
Jane Marsh works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.