Researchers from Trinity College Dublin will lead a €4.1m Horizon Europe project to develop digital solutions that improve the efficiency, flexibility and sustainability of the existing EU hydropower fleet.

The project will make a huge impact on energy sustainability in the EU, where 50% of the current hydro fleet may require upgrading by 2030. 

The project – iAMP-Hydro (intelligent Asset Management Platform for Hydropower) – will be coordinated by Professor Aonghus McNabola in the School of Engineering, with the support of Professor Biswajit Basu (School of Engineering) and Professor Paul Coughlan (Trinity Business School), as well as nine partners from across Europe.

Intelligent asset management platform

Researchers will improve the digital operation of existing plants through the development of new digital sensors and services which will collectively form iAMP – a novel intelligent asset management platform encompassing secure open and transparent data-sharing protocols and three novel digital solutions.

These include condition monitoring and predictive maintenance for hydropower turbines; ecological status monitoring for sustainable water resources management; and improved weather and flow forecasting.

Prof McNabola said: “The full package of digital solutions will be validated at a diverse set of five real-world existing hydropower plants located around Europe, producing evidence for policy-making to support the green and digital transition of hydropower. The existing plants include differing power capacities, turbine type, water use, flow and head regimes, climatic conditions, and environmental sensitivities.

“The EU electricity sector is undergoing a fundamental change with the increase of digitalisation. As a result, power systems are more deeply monitored, and artificial intelligence and big data are implemented in daily operations.

"We will be putting hydro front and centre with this project, to ensure the same advances are utilised in this sector, which represents one-sixth of global electricity generation and provides a significant contribution to grid flexibility and energy security, as it can modulate generation very rapidly and be stopped and restarted smoothly.

“Much of the EU fleet needs attention, but this means that modernisation actions related to digitalisation in the short to medium term have the potential to make a huge impact. Such actions will deliver enhanced services, increase grid flexibility, aid environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, and foster the general green and digital transition in Europe.”

Cut operation and maintenance costs by 5-10%

The project will increase the technology competitiveness of existing hydropower by reducing operation and maintenance costs by 5-10%, improving generation and revenues, and increasing flexibility and data-driven decision making in hydropower operations. It will also increase the market penetration of renewables in the grid by 8.4 TWh – helping us get closer to the EU 2030 Climate and Energy targets.

Researchers predict iAMP-Hydro will improve environmental and socioeconomic sustainability of the existing hydropower fleet by reducing operating costs by €1bn per year, reducing CO2 emissions by 1,260 tonnes, creating 10,000 future-proof jobs, and enabling environmentally sustainable flow regulation using digital solutions.

Current estimations show that the digitalisation of the world's 1,225 GW of existing hydro could increase annual production by 42 TWh, which amounts to $5bn US in annual operational savings and significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The project partnership includes Trinity College Dublin; Easy Hydro Ltd; Cuerva Energia; Suite 5 Data Intelligence Solutions Ltd; CARTIF; EDP; PPC Renewables; WIP, Norce; and University Politechnia of Bucharest.