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With investment flowing into hydro plants, it’s time to think about the benefits of modernizing controls

by | Dec 5, 2023 | Control & Safety Systems, Power Generation, Sustainable Energy

Matt Roberts

Matt Roberts

Director, Renewables Business Development (Hydro, Wind, Solar, Battery Storage)

Funding is flowing into U.S. hydropower facilities: Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that through the Hydroelectric Production Incentive, 66 hydro facilities would receive $38 million in incentive payments for electricity generated and sold. This funding, authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is part of a $750 million commitment to incentivize investment and capital improvements in this source of clean energy.

hydro plant controls

With the multi-million-dollar investment in hydro plants making headlines, the time seems right to highlight the ways in which controls modernization projects can increase efficiency, operating flexibility, security and performance of existing hydro facilities—all without breaking the bank.

Investment in hydropower infrastructure is welcome news: Many facilities were built from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s and 1980s and they still operate using much of their original equipment. This may be problematic, as older equipment and controls may not operate as reliably as intended which, in turn, could create challenges related to grid stability and even overall public safety.

100+ Years Young: New Innovations Deliver Additional Benefits

Hydro plants serve dual roles. First, they are vital to public safety, as they protect our waterways; provide flood control, irrigation and recreation; and supply drinking water.

From a power-generation perspective, hydropower plants are able to respond to the dynamic needs of the electric grid by quickly generating megawatts to meet base or peak demand at a low cost. And now, newer innovations and technologies are further boosting hydro’s ability to contribute to grid reliability and resilience. For example:

  • Run-of-river hydropower, coupled with battery energy storage systems, are helping communities meet their climate and sustainability goals while reliably providing clean energy to their citizens
  • Adding floating solar panels to hydro reservoirs creates a virtual battery that delivers solar power during the day while balancing the grid with hydropower during off-peak hours

Clearly, hydro plants are having a significant impact on the power industry’s transformation to cleaner energy and the integration of renewables into the grid. And this brings me back to need to modernize to ensure continued reliable operation of these plants.

I’ve spent most of my career in the hydro sector, primarily in the controls area, and I’ve found that, generally speaking, there is low awareness of the dramatic impact that is possible by replacing existing, legacy control systems with modern, automated computer-based controls and software solutions. Also, these facilities are often on the sidelines during conversations about the power industry’s digital transformation journey. This is unfortunate, as these plants can digitally transform through enhanced control strategies, advanced diagnostics, remote operation capability and cybersecurity solutions.

With the multi-million-dollar investment in hydro plants making headlines, the time seems right to highlight the ways in which controls modernization projects can increase efficiency, operating flexibility, security and performance of existing hydro facilities—all without breaking the bank.

Modernizing Controls Provides Reliability and Rapid ROI

Emerson offers a range of hydropower solutions for modernizing plant control systems and mechanical equipment. Our solutions help balance optimal power generation and water use for faster response to grid demands, reduced costs and adherence to compliance regulations. Best of all,  improvements can be achieved quickly and very cost-effectively, resulting in a good return on investment … and peace of mind.

Emerson’s solutions for hydropower applications includes:

  • Hydro governors: Support for all types and vintages of hydro governor systems, ranging from mechanical to the most advanced digital governors
  • DCS with SCADA and mechanical solutions: Control with advanced applications, integrated condition monitoring, generator excitation control and specialized turbine I/O.
  • Excitation systems: Native generator exciter and integrated generator excitation control systems for synchronous generators
  • Integrated condition monitoring: Continuous monitoring of the health of turbines, fans, pumps and other rotating assets
  • ICS cybersecurity solutions: Proven ICS-based software, products, services and defense-in-depth strategies

If I’ve whetted your appetite and you’re interested in learning more about the simple steps you can take to modernize your hydropower automation system, I recommend visiting the Hydro Power Plant Control System page on Emerson.com to find out more about how our comprehensive hydropower solutions and services can translate into fewer shutdowns, faster startups and efficient load dispatch.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.