Expert study on hydropower in Europe

Hydropower is currently Europe’s largest renewable energy source with a market share of approx. 35 percent. On behalf of Voith Hydro, the research agency TNS Emnid conducted a survey among energy experts on the significance of hydropower technology for the European energy transition.

The results of the survey can be summarised as follows:

Without hydropower the European energy transition
cannot succeed

In Austria, Switzerland and Norway, hydropower plays a key role in the national energy discourse. In Germany, by contrast, experts have accorded little importance to this energy source, despite its widespread popular acceptance.

The results of TNS Emnid’s expert survey put hydropower in a new perspective and demonstrate its significance in the context of the energy transition in Europe.

In contrast to wind and solar power, hydropower is the only renewable energy source that can provide a stable and base load electricity supply. Hydropower also enjoys widespread popular support as an efficient source of energy for consumers and industry.


Experts value hydropower as a reliable and stable source of energy

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

Experts also confirm the high energy efficiency, high profitability and high durability of hydropower facilities

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement
High efficiency
High profitability
High durability of technical equipment

Despite the varying assessments of hydropower in the respective countries, experts agree that the potential of hydropower is far from exploited – especially in Germany.

In Germany, hydropower accounts for just 3.5 percent of the national energy supply. However, its low carbon dioxide emissions and storage capabilities make hydropower a valuable resource in achieving climate targets. For example: Pumped storage plants can store renewable energy from wind and solar sources.


Hydropower makes a “big to very big” contribution to achieving climate targets

Proportion of experts who agree with this statement in
Austria
Switzerland
Norway
Sweden
Germany

Hydropower has low CO₂-emissions

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

Why does Europe need energy storage?

Increasing dependence on intermittent energy sources like wind and sun is causing greater fluctuations in the energy grid. Sometimes too much and sometimes too little power is fed into the grid. To keep the grid stable, Europe needs reliable and flexible energy supplies, as well as powerful storage facilities. The operation of thermal power plants, such as gas-fired power plants, can then be reduced. Capacity overloads from wind and solar power can only be regulated by inefficient curtailment or storage.

Pumped storage plants can balance out power shortages. In case of higher demand, the plants can feed electricity into the grid within seconds. On the other hand surplus energy is stored, enabling wind and photovoltaic plants to continue operation. Renewable capacities can thus be used to full potential. Errors in forecast of wind and solar energy production are easily compensated. Further benefits of pumped storage plants include lower costs per kilowatt hour and a lower impact on the environment.

Learn more about pumped storage plants here.


Hydropower provides excellent storage capabilities

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

How does a pumped storage plant work?

If strong wind and lots of sun threaten to overload the grid, the plant switches into pumping mode: electrical motors drive pumps that push water from a basin into a higher reservoir. As soon as energy demand increases, the water in the upper reservoir is let down again into the lower reservoir. The water runs through turbines, which drive generators, and within seconds, electricity is fed into the grid. Pumped storage plants can also blackstart and provide power to grids affected by a blackout or requiring stabilization. Hydropower is the only generating technology that can do this.

The experts participating in the survey agree that pumped storage plants provide excellent short-term storage and can be used several times a day. Pumped storage facilities are flexible and multi-functional: They can store excess solar power and make it available at a later time – Power from sunshine at noon can be stored and fed into the grid in the evening. By curtailing renewable sources and preventing a grid overload, pumped storage plants support the overall power system and contribute to grid stability and safety of supply. Hydropower is therefore the ideal facilitator for a future-oriented energy mix in Europe.


“To achieve the European energy transition, we need stronger coordination at European level. A European energy union would improve our ability to harness various geographical advantages. Pumped storage plants could turn Germany, Austria and Switzerland into a battery for Europe.”
Heike Bergmann
Board of Management, Voith Hydro Germany

Safe, clean, tried and trusted

Hydropower is the largest and most cost-effective source of renewable energy in the world. This video provides a moving insight into the world of hydropower:

Popular support is the cornerstone of a successful transition to a renewable energy supply. However, rising electricity prices and exceptions for some branches of industry have generated scepticism towards the energy transition among the population of the countries participating in the survey. Hydropower is the exception: Experts believe that this source of energy is still the leading choice, and is seen as a safe, clean and proven technology.


Experts assess hydropower’s reputation in the population as “good to very good”

Proportion of experts who agree with this statement in
Switzerland
Norway
Austria
Germany
Sweden

Hydropower has the best reputation among renewable energy sources

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement
Hydropower
Photovoltaics
Wind power
Biomass

Hydropower provides a better balance between environmental impact and the amount of energy produced than other renewable energy sources

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

The potential of hydropower is far from exhausted

Hydropower is not only the most popular renewable energy source; it is also the oldest, most widespread and reliable form of renewable energy generation. Hydropower plants have been supplying the population with low-carbon electricity since the end of the 19th century.

Hydropower in Europe has not been exploited to full potential: Technological developments, innovations and modernisation can boost the efficiency of existing systems and ensure compliance with the latest ecological standards. For example: Fish can be directed past generating stations via lock flows and fish ladders; state-of-the-art turbine blades improve water quality and ensure minimal risk of injury for fish that still find their way into the turbines, and oil-free hubs help protect the environment.

Example for untapped potential

Germany has around 50,000 retaining dams or weirs, of which only 7,000 are fitted with hydropower systems. With the aid of compact turbines, existing dams and weirs could be used for power generation. Modernising existing hydropower plants would also significantly improve their performance.


Practical example: Rheinfelden

The modernisation of the Rheinfelden power plant shows how various innovations enable hydropower to be used with greater efficiency and cause less impact on the environment. The capacity of the power plant more than tripled, increasing from 185 to 600 million kilowatt hours per year. Numerous compensatory measures have also improved the local eco-system. A waterway of around 900 metres of near-natural environment has turned the former power station channel into a valuable habitat for numerous fish and plant species. A total of 64 compensatory measures have been implemented, including preservation of the Rhine’s characteristic rapids and the construction of a fish pass and spawning site.


There is a lot of untapped potential for hydropower in the study countries

Proportion of experts who agree with this statement in
Norway
Germany
Austria
Switzerland
Sweden

Modernising and expanding existing systems should have priority while promoting hydropower

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

Lack of political will

Energy policies determine the sources of energy used and shape the future of our energy supply. 45 percent of experts participating in the survey believe that hydropower lacks political support. In Germany, 63 percent of the experts consulted see a deficit in this area. Given the growing need for ecologically sound and economically efficient solutions for the energy transition, there is a considerable need for action here.


Hydropower does not receive enough political support

Proportion of experts who agree with this statement
All
Germany
Austria
Switzerland
Sweden
Norway

Why is this potential not exploited despite the obvious benefits?
TNS Emnid asked European experts to identify the obstacles preventing a greater focus on hydropower.

Political will

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

Planning and approval times

Proportion of participating experts who agree with this statement

The importance of hydropower for Europe's future energy supply is undisputed amongst energy experts, who all emphasize its enormous potential. However, experts also underline the need to use associated opportunities to ensure a sustainable and efficient transition to renewables in Europe.

In the interests of the environment, consumers and industry, it is high time to take political steps, to cut time-consuming bureaucracy and effectively promote the use of hydropower. Germany can learn a thing or two from its European neighbours here. If the energy transition is to be a success in Europe, the government must stop treating hydropower as a poor relation.


“For a successful energy transition in Europe, we need much more than new technologies. We need political will, popular support, cross-border cooperation and long-term planning. As experts from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway confirm: hydropower is already an integral part of an ecologically and economically sound energy transition. But they also agree that the potential of hydropower far exceeds its current reach.”
Dr. Roland Münch
Voith Corporate Board of Management, Chief Executive Officer of Voith Hydro

The study design

The study is based on a qualitative telephone survey of energy experts in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.

Implementation:

TNS Emnid (on behalf of Voith)

Method:

Telephone survey (CATI ad hoc)

Target group:

Energy experts interviewed: 600 in total (Germany: 200; Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway: 100 each).

Experts working in trade associations, environmental associations, energy suppliers, energy policy, representatives of regulatory authorities, energy and infrastructure planners, journalists.