Future RD Efforts

The technology challenges facing hydropower include improving efficiency; reducing equipment costs; reducing operating and maintenance costs; improving dependability; integrating with other renewables; developing hybrid systems, including hydrogen; developing innovative technologies to minimize environmental impact; and facilitating education and training of hydropower professionals. Table 5.4 lays out the R&D priorities for large and small hydropower.

Although small-hydro technology is mature and well established in the market, there is a need for further R&D to improve equipment designs, investigate different materials, improve control systems, and optimize generation as part of integrated water management systems. One priority area is increasing the range of head and flow at acceptable costs, particularly in small-capacity and low-head equipment.

Low-head equipment must accommodate considerably more water flow than high head equipment of equivalent capacity. Hence, low-head installations are physically larger and require more extensive engineering.5 Since output shaft speed is lower as head decreases, low-head schemes generally need speed increasers to drive high-speed generators.

5 The head is the height through which the waterfalls. The flow rate is the amount of water flowing per unit of time.

Table 5.4 Technology needs for hydropower (IEA [3])

Large hydro


• Low-head technologies, including in-stream flow

• Communicate advances in equipment, devices and materials

O&M practices

• Increasing use of maintenance-free and remote limited operation technologies

Small hydro Equipment

• Turbines with less impact on fish populations

• Low-head technologies

• In-stream flow technologies

O&M practices

• Develop package plants requiring only O&M

Hybrid systems

• Wind-hydro systems

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