Hydropower, a Valuable Resource for Europe’s Future

Published on Friday, 20 November 2015

Europe's political leaders are committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2030, in their fight against climate change. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the continent’s share of renewable energy must be increased in the generation mix. Enel and other utilities have therefore commissioned the study, The Hydropower sector‘s contribution to a sustainable and prosperous Europe, which aims to analyse and highlight hydropower’s economic and environmental importance in Europe.

The report shows how hydropower, in addition to contributing to local economies and meeting the energy demand, affects activities such as flood management, irrigation and drinking water supplies. Moreover, hydropower plants are the only large-scale storage systems currently available to store excess energy on the grid – with a storage capacity of more than 220 Terawatt-hours – which can then be used when there is an increased demand. With investments ranging from 8 to 12 billion euros per year, the industry is providing more than 100,000 jobs (80,000 in the EU-28), each producing an average annual value of 650,000 euros, equal to about eight times the average productivity of European manufacturing.

The hydropower sector currently provides the continent with approximately 600 TWh of electricity (of which 380 in the EU-28) and avoids the emission of 180 million tonnes of CO2, equal to 15 percent of the member countries’ emissions. The amount is estimated to increase to 700 TWh by 2030 and to 800 TWh by 2050, amounting in a 31 percent increase: a significant contribution to the decarbonisation process that has been launched by Europe.

The Enel Group is at the forefront of this process, having declared its intention to become a carbon neutral company by 2050. Hydropower is the renewable source with the highest percentage in the Group’s generation mix, with different sized plants in Europe and the Americas, for a total installed capacity of 28,642 MW as of June 30, 2015. In particular, Enel is investing in the construction of so-called mini hydropower plants: facilities that can harness small water falls or flow rates. Despite their limited power capacity, these systems require construction and maintenance work that minimise their environmental impact, ensuring a predictable and reliable source of energy, which can be managed by smaller communities. Their technology is “small” only in size, while offering a great contribution to the development and security of the energy system in the new paradigm of distributed generation.