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Global experts identify top 100 questions to improve sustainable management of hydropeaking

In a newly published study, a team of international experts has identified the top 100 high-priority questions that need to be addressed to improve the sustainable management of peak-operating hydropower, a critical component in the renewable energy landscape. This research, which was partially conducted within the Hydro4U project, is set to shape the future of hydropeaking research, policy, and management. Hydropeaking, the rapid and frequent changes in river flow to optimize hydropower operation, has gained significant attention due to its ecological impacts and its role in integrating renewable energy production with demand. As the global commitment to renewable energy grows, understanding and mitigating the effects of hydropeaking becomes paramount.

Global map of larger dams used for hydroelectricity production and the share of renewable electricity production per country.
Global map of larger dams used for hydroelectricity production and the share of renewable electricity production per country. Source: Hayes et al. (2023). Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 187, 113729.

The study employed the Delphi method, a systematic approach to achieving expert consensus, to distill over 400 initial questions to the most pressing 100. These questions span a range of themes, from hydrology and ecology to energy markets and policy. The consensus list aims to guide researchers in focusing their efforts, bridging the gap between science and policy, and ensuring the sustainable operation of hydropower facilities.

Key findings from the study include:

  • A strong understanding of the main ecological impacts of hydropeaking and efficient mitigation techniques exists.

  • There remains to be a disconnect between this understanding and its policy and management implementation.

  • The ecological effects of hydropeaking on certain organism groups (e.g., crayfish, mollusks, and birds), life cycle stages, and key physical processes, such as sediment dynamics, are still largely unexplored.

  • The socio-economic impacts and energy markets of hydropeaking need further investigation.

  • Considering hydropeaking in the broader context of climate change, urbanization, and other global trends is essential for future sustainability.

The study also emphasizes the potential of emerging technologies. Rapid advances in remote sensing and the rise of artificial intelligence offer new avenues for research. These technologies can help develop a new generation of models that consider a wide range of data, from socio-economic drivers to river flows and energy markets. “This research is a call for a coordinated, global effort to address the challenges and opportunities presented by hydropeaking,” said Dr. Daniel S. Hayes, lead author of the study, and researcher at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. “With the identified 100 high-priority questions as our guide, we can direct our research efforts more effectively, providing policymakers with the evidence they need to ensure the sustainable management of rivers.”

Alluvial plot showing how the eight topics (on the left) are linked to thematic sub-categories (on the right). The line colors indicate if the respective original question (n = 432) was selected, combined, split, or not selected for the final 100 questions list. Source: Hayes et al. (2023). Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 187, 113729.

The Hydro4U project is proud to have participated in this pivotal research, emphasizing its commitment to advancing sustainable hydropower practices worldwide. The study can be downloaded for free here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2023.113729

 

Note: This article was first published as a blog post on the Hydro4U project website.

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