Towards safe, secure and reliable energy: optimising hydropower production
Sophie, 45 years old, lives in Madrid, Spain, and works for a large Spanish energy company. She is the head of the hydrological department and, together with her team, they are responsible for predicting the volume of river water flowing into the water reservoirs and power plants managed by the company. Sophie’s company strongly relies on the information provided by her team to decide on when and how much energy should be produced in order to ensure an optimal and reliable production of energy, while contributing to sustainable water resources management practices and respecting environmental flows.
The challenges for Sophie
Sophie is faced with many challenges in her daily work. River flows strongly vary in space and time according to climate and river basin conditions. These conditions are difficult to predict and the forecasts issued by Sophie’s team are inherently uncertain.
Extreme situations, such as floods and droughts, are particularly challenging for Sophie’s work: they are rare events, difficult to forecast and might be associated with severe economic costs and impacts on dam security, energy production and water allocation.
In addition, as hydropower coexists with other water uses, such as agriculture, human water supply and river ecosystems conservation, there is a pressing need to equitably share the water that is stored in hydropower reservoirs or flowing in watersheds, so as to prevent situations of conflict or to avoid that hydropower operations negatively impact the other uses.
To guide the company’s daily decisions on energy production, Sophie needs to provide accurate forecasts of reservoir inflows for several days ahead. In addition, reliable forecasts for several months ahead are also needed to allow a better planning of the use of the water stored in the reservoirs and of the company’s production capacity based on predicted regional water resources.
To reduce the potential impacts of extreme hydrological events and to provide more accurate information about future river flows to the managers of the power plants and reservoirs of her company, Sophie relies upon improved meteorological forecasts and climate predictions (precipitation, temperature, etc.), and on improved hydrological modelling (soil moisture, runoff, etc.).
Solving the challenges with IMPREX
In IMPREX, we show that we can help people like Sophie improve the operation of hydropower systems by improving the forecasts over different temporal scales (from few days to seasons) as well as our capability to anticipate extreme events and future water availability.
The meteorological and hydrological forecasts provided by IMPREX are used directly as input data to hydrological models and reservoir operation models. They can also be used as indicative information to trigger awareness concerning future extreme events likely to occur. With the help of modelling studies on real cases, we also show that this improved chain of information that IMPREX can provide to the hydropower sector fosters the adoption of novel strategies on reservoir operation, which aim at making the best out of the improved predictions.
Integrative approaches, such as the one provided by IMPREX, are crucial to Sophie’s work as they add quality to her team’s forecasts and value to their work. Improved climate services provide better guidance to current operating rules, but also open pathways to explore the adoption of more efficient rules under future conditions or the use of novel ways to operate water resource systems and assess risks.
IMPREX will benefit Sophie and her team in their daily work by demonstrating how improved forecasts and their effective use in the decisions taken by their company enhances hydropower security, production and planning. Not only does this have an economic value to the hydroelectric power industry, but it actually facilitates interactions between water users, supports regional growth and planning, and enhances operating policies under multi-risk and multi-water use contexts.