Hydropower is a flexible technology, proven, improved and refined over many years, yet its site-specific features make it highly innovatory in application, which makes use of a wide range of available resource – large or small, storage or run-of-river, and including tidal range, canals and even water treatment works. Over 150 years ago it revolutionised electricity generation in the UK and it is still one of the most inexpensive ways to generate power, playing an important role in our electricity system stability.
This section comprises 18 case studies of successful small hydropower (SHP) implementation in a range of communities and aims to add a more detailed, practical perspective on the transformative potential of SHP and the best practices. Case studies give specific examples of communities that use SHP for productive use to meet their needs and improve quality of life. The purpose of this new section is to make the learnings drawn from such experiences easily accessible, forming a knowledge base that can benefit communities, decision-makers and developers elsewhere.
The cases demonstrate how reliable access to electricity provided by SHP revolutionizes the daily lives of communities worldwide, in particular in rural areas, creating employment opportunities, stimulating economic development, strengthening the capacity of existing infrastructure and local institutions, while minimizing negative environmental impacts. The following five aspects of SHP development are covered in the case studies.
SHP for productive use: While lack of access to electricity holds back economic development, SHP can create new opportunities for local businesses by providing power infrastructure, as demonstrated by the examples of 165 SHP projects developed under the Sarhad Rural Support Programme in Pakistan and the Gura SHP developed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency in Kenya. In these cases, reliable access to electricity through SHP allowed local enterprises to expand and create new business opportunities through higher efficiency and productivity, and reduced costs.
SHP for social and community development: Lack of electricity also constitutes a significant barrier to human, social and community development, specifically impacting vulnerable groups, including women and young people. The examples of SHP projects in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Tajikistan, Japan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China demonstrate that SHP can create conditions for communities to improve their quality of life, create employment, increase the standard of public service provision, improve overall health and education and achieve greater autonomy, even in areas affected by armed conflicts.
SHP financing: Access to financial resources is one of the most common barriers to SHP development across the countries due to high upfront investment required for launching a project. It is often the case that local banks’ ability to support SHP projects is constrained by single borrower exposure limits imposed by central banks, with their own internal guidelines being predominantly based on collateral borrowing. However, innovative mechanisms have been developed by some international and local banks to support projects such as SHPs. Thus, the Risk Sharing Framework of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development offers local partner banks funded or unfunded risk participation schemes, which, for example, supported the development of the Akhmeta SHP in Georgia. Ping An Bank, a commercial Chinese bank, offers customized financial assistance for SHP construction and operation in poverty-stricken areas of the country.
Technology, innovation and smart SHP: SHP development can also be restricted due to a lack of suitable sites, in particular, when the most attractive potential has already been harnessed or when strict environmental or other regulations limit further development in areas with available potential. However, as the case studies demonstrate, a range of technical solutions exist that can help adapt the technology
to local regulations and bring it to more communities. These include using existing hydro-technological infrastructure for the installation of an SHP, as in the case of the Zagrody SHP in Poland; the innovative fish lift sluice system developed by Der Wasserwirt; the Turbulent turbines, which allow harnessing the potential of low head streams; and hydrokinetic turbines developed by Smart Hydro Power which can be installed in rivers but also in existing infrastructure such as canals or water regulation dams.
Incentive policies for SHP development: Another common barrier to SHP development is a lack of a regulatory framework that would encourage the use of SHP and make the sector more attractive for investment. The example of Panama demonstrates how SHP development can accelerate with the support of appropriate incentive policies.
Green SHP: Unregulated SHP development can result in significant ecological impact, including river dehydration, changed river ecology, reduced river connectivity and affected migratory fish and other aquatic species. To maintain the ecological safety of the sector, the future of SHP development should be in the form of green SHP, supported by regulations, guidelines, incentive policies and practices. Two case studies outline the measures taken in China and Austria to promote SHP construction and rehabilitation in line with the principles of ecological sustainability.