Small hydropower in Europe

The EU’s small hydropower plants (generally with an installed capacity of up to 10 MW) contribute significantly to achieving the EU’s decarbonisation and renewable energy targets, supplying renewable and reliable electricity to more than 13 million households.

Most importantly, small hydropower supports and enables the transformation of Europe’s energy system towards a system based on renewable energy and energy efficiency and creates high-quality jobs throughout Europe.  

Flexibility through hydropower allowing renewable energy integration

Small hydropower production has a low variability and high predictability, moreover has modulation capabilities in terms of balancing power and voltage control and thus emphasizes the need for flexibility in the future electricity system, with an increasing share of variable renewable energy sources integrated into electricity grids.

With different shares of variable renewable energy sources in the system, different capabilities of hydropower become relevant to support the integration. Unlike many alternatives, hydropower offers a significant range of possible flexibility capabilities in comparison with batteries or other technologies.

Thanks to its decentralized contribution to electricity supply, small hydropower contributes to the reduction of losses related to electricity transmission and to the voltage control in operating local grids. Recent studies show that small hydropower plants avoid substantial investments in grid amendments and save network costs.

High-quality and secure electricity supply for all citizens

As the integration of variable renewable energy increases, it becomes more important to provide the right capacity at the right times, rather than merely providing large amounts of energy. There is a need to sustain a well-integrated mix of renewables where hydropower has an important role linked to its specific flexibility characteristics.

There are few or no renewable related competitors of hydropower that can deliver emission-free solutions – particularly over long durations. The value of flexibility to the power system and the users of electricity needs relevant valuation to be quantified and to demonstrate that it is a key factor of the future power system.

High efficiency up to 85%+

Small hydropower has a high global efficiency up to more than 85%. It can immediately respond to fluctuations in electricity demand meeting both base-load and peak-load demand and contribute to voltage control. It does not pollute the air or produce any waste in operation, and is a CO2 emission-free solution.

Technological maturity and environmentally friendly

Small hydropower is a mature technology, with long-term experience and more than several thousand installed and operational plants, while still implementing advanced technologies for greater flexibility and environment friendly solutions.

Small hydropower plants are optimized to minimize impact on ecosystems, as they are built and operated in compliance with stringent rules. The small hydropower industry invests further to ensure fish-friendly solutions and to promote biodiversity through new habitats. 

Creating local jobs

As a very efficient decentralized electricity production technology, small hydropower development contributes to creating local jobs and activities, especially in rural zones. In the European Union, the number of direct jobs generated by small hydropower alone is estimated at around 60,000.

The European small hydropower industry is considered as a world leader, with the ability to build tailor-made hydropower facilities all around the world. European hydropower equipment manufacturing competence accounted for an estimated two-thirds of the world market.

The European hydropower industry offers the complete range of solutions and services to harness the potential of hydropower in a sustainable way, in almost any conditions. Most importantly, European equipment distinguishes itself with  very high efficiency and can comply with even the strictest environmental laws and regulations.

Next to the leadership in manufacturing, many leading universities and research centres specialised in hydropower are located in Europe. They include professional testing facilities from model scale to full scale, to optimize flexibility operational conditions (and costs), as well as with R&D capacities.

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