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Content archived on 2024-04-19

Technical and resource assessment of low-head hydropower in Europe


The project involves three main areas of research:
1. assessment of the scale and nature of low-head resources in selected regions of Europe
2. to assess existing hydropower technology for exploiting low head sites, and to review new designs and methods for improving cost-effectiveness.
3. to study the economics of low and ultra-low head hydro power in the light of commercial cost data obtained, and to assess the potential for cost-saving through technical innovation.

A comprehensive final report presenting the findings of the research and the conclusions reached.

The project compiled a database covering nearly 100 000 km2 containing 231 low head sites that have potential grid-connected power from 100 kW to 10 MW with little environmental impact. A computer model, HYDROSOFT, was devised to calculate the theoretical and technical potential for each site and to make an assessment of the economic feasibility. Extrapolating the resource potential to 12 other EU countries indicated that low head hydropower has, to date, been largely neglected as a renewable energy source. However, it shows promise as a significant and unexpected energy resource for Europe. The estimated EU resource runs to 3000 MWe utilising only existing river structure to avoid high civil engineering costs. Up to 70% of this resource could be cost-effective today (with a tariff of 0.08 ECU/kWh) using existing technology. The study showed that only 40% of the technical resource potential, 24% of the theoretical resource potential, has been developed so far.
This project is a major new assessment of the potential for low and ultra-low head hydro-power in England, the Netherlands and Germany. It is intended to form the basis for new initiatives in the use of run-of-river low-head hydropower in Europe, For this project, Low Head and Ultra-Low Head have been defined as 3m to 5m and 1m to 3m respectively. Low-head hydropower constitutes a major renewable energy resource within Europe, with many thousands of potential sites already defined by flood control structures on medium and large rivers. However it has generally been found that low-head sites are too expensive to develop using current technology.
The main activities of this project are:
1. To compile a database of low-head sites in selected regions of the UK, the Netherlands and Germany for which installations of approximately 200kW or greater would be technically feasible.
2. To review the technology and costs of existing low-head hydro technology, with reference to case studies, and identify areas for cost-saving. Data will be collected from manufacturers and users.

3. To evaluate novel design concepts for improving the cost-effectiveness of low-head hydro-installations.
4. To define the cost and performance targets required for commercial viability of low-head hydro-plant, and hence to estimate the proportion of the low-head resource which could be economic.

5. To specify promising areas for future R&D to improve the cost-effectiveness of hydro installations operating at low heads.

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The Warren, Bramshill Road
United Kingdom

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