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Study Evaluates How Hydro Stations Could Help Alleviate Power Supply Shortage

A team of researchers from the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country and the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) has investigated the predicted evolution of the supply and demand for power across the forthcoming years in Spain.

The possibilities offered by hydraulic energy to ensure the security of electricity supply are being studied in depth. Image Credit: Diego Cervo/Stockfresh.

The researchers contemplate a future without coal-based and nuclear plants but with a larger share of renewable sources. In this study, the researchers not only simulated the security of power supply in this situation but also assessed the extent to which hydro stations could help ease the threat of a power supply shortage.

Scientists from the UPV/EHU’s Institute of Public Economics and BC3 have been collaborating for a number of years on the research and projection of the supposed security of electricity supply in Spain. The nation is considered an “electricity island” because of its limited interconnection with the neighboring nations.

This aspect underscores the projections of the nation’s power demand, supply, and generation capacity across the forthcoming years. Building on such projections, the scientists assessed the level of security of supply and evaluated how it will vary in reaction to electricity sources that are slowly promoted or abandoned.

The second article concerning this study was recently published in Energy—a scientific journal. Two more BC3 scientists have participated in this study.

Beginning from the familiar values of power generation and consumption, the team designed a model to project the evolution of both these variables in 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050.

Other authors have made projections of electricity consumption and reckon that it will grow one decade after another, a bit more than 1% per year. With respect to electricity sources, for the next 10 years the projections indicate that coal and nuclear will undergo a sizeable reduction, and by 2040 these two technologies will cease operation.

José Manuel Chamorro-Gómez, Institute of Public Economics, University of the Basque Country

Chamorro-Gómez added, “The capacity of all the renewable plants due to come into operation will be greater than the one now available of non-renewable generation, but everything seems to suggest that the security of supply will nonetheless be affected.”

The previous loss in generation capacity will be compensated by increasing the renewables.

As such, sources of renewable power are uncertain, non-dispatchable, and irregular. All these aspects encroach on the system and raise the risk that a small part of the demand will not be fulfilled by the existing sources, rendering the supply less secure.

Right now, the existing system does not guarantee 100% of supply in any scenario, but in our models we have seen that the potentially unmet fraction will be much bigger in the future, and supply shortages will be more frequent,” added Chamorro-Gómez.

In this analysis, the team fully examined the potential provided by a renewable energy source that is amenable to a more flexible management, specifically hydropower.

Hydro plants can be adjusted by the people in charge of operating them; the flow of water to the turbine can be regulated at any moment, which, no doubt, would partly alleviate the risk of a supply shortage Furthermore, hydro stations with reversible turbines play a dual purpose: in addition to increasing power generation at times of higher demand, when this is lower the turbine can be used to pump water upwards to the reservoir (by using electricity).

José Manuel Chamorro-Gómez, Institute of Public Economics, University of the Basque Country

Chamorro-Gómez continued, “This way, water can be stored and used later on to generate electricity once more when demand increases again. According to our results, that would alleviate, to a certain extent, the risk of being unable to meet demand when it surges.”

But the study’s authors also referred to the aspects of the environment that have to be considered when planning and addressing the use as well as the operation of hydro stations.

From the viewpoint of power generation, water is obviously a resource, but this resource is of course in a context. The impact that power plants and reservoirs have on river basins is undeniable. So, the administrations or policy makers above the station operators have to set the rules of the game, and these rules need to be clear in terms of ecological flows, discharge frequencies and other parameters.

José Manuel Chamorro-Gómez, Institute of Public Economics, University of the Basque Country Magazine

Apart from the resource of hydro plants, Chamorro-Gómez listed yet another series of measures that can possibly be adopted to completely meet the demand, ensuring the security of electricity supply.

He added, “Firstly, much research is being conducted on electricity storage. If you can come up with a system in which, say, you store the electricity generated by the wind during a period of low demand, you will have a way of using it when needed.”

Or you can encourage consumers to use their household appliances during non-peak hours when the price of electricity is lower. Furthermore, electric vehicles could feed their charge into the grid at a given moment to supplement supply. Progress is being made in different aspects to achieve a system in which demand peaks are met as fully as possible,” concluded Chamorro-Gómez.

Journal Reference:

Abadie, L. M., et al. (2020) On flexible hydropower and security of supply: Spain beyond 2020. Energy.

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