Waterpower Week is a major occasion for the many businesses and organizations involved in the world of hydropower and marine energy. With the National Hydropower Association Annual Conference, International Marine Renewable Energy Conference and Marine Energy Technology Symposium all involved in this co-sponsored event, a wide array of different interests in the industry are represented.
The 2017 iteration of the event, which was held May 1-3 in Washington, D.C., continued the focus on policy and regulatory change that has been a hallmark of the annual conference. Sapere's has found attending Waterpower Week to be a wonderful opportunity to stay abreast of industry trends in terms of business operations, legislation and technology.
Hydropower legislation modernization takes steps forward
"Ground gained on Capitol Hill was a positive development during Waterpower Week."
One of the biggest and most positive outcomes of Waterpower Week was ground gained on Capitol Hill for the industry as a whole. During the last day of the conference, a pair of Congressional hearings about hydropower included representatives from the NHA as well as some of the companies that make up its membership.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee heard written testimony from Jeff Leahey, the NHA's deputy executive director, about the current challenges that face the industry in terms of existing regulations. Leahey spoke about a number of positive results that could stem from the modernization of those rules, which place a major burden on the ability of businesses in the hydropower industry to efficiently develop new plants and improve existing ones.
"The federal hydropower licensing process contains many challenges – it takes years to complete, requires substantial upfront costs, and contains too much uncertainty and risk – all of which, as a developer, creates a significant barrier to securing capital, or, as a utility, is difficult to justify project economics and receive internal approvals," Leahey wrote in his testimony.
He went on to note the importance of updating the regulations, whether through specific legislation or a more broad and sweeping infrastructure bill. The increase in jobs created through a streamlined regulatory process was noted, as was the value of hydropower to the nation.
Additionally, at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Herbie Johnson, NHA president, spoke about similar topics. He noted the difficulties in the current relicensing process and the potential advantages of a more efficient approach.
Bipartisan support for changes has been noted, with bills starting to move through Congress. Additionally, the current presidential administration's stated focus on infrastructure support and improvement could give the industry an additional edge in growing and expanding.
Notable developments at the conference
With three days of events – including more than 30 sessions and 300 speakers – and more than 675 members in attendance, 2017's Waterpower Week was full of information and opportunities. Working toward the industry goal of generating 50 gigawatts of hydropower by 2050, many aspects of the conference involved discussions of current regulatory standards and possible avenues for change. That vision of an increase in the use of hydropower was bolstered by the testimony given at the two Congressional sessions.
Despite the existing ability to generate electricity in a renewable, environmentally conscious way, the licensing process causes slowdowns.
With only about 3 percent of all dams in the U.S. configured to produce hydropower, an obvious and exceptionally large market exists for increasing production. However, the current licensing process's lack of distinction between entirely new construction and work on existing sites means making relatively minor additions and changes to dams and similar structures is a complicated, long and expensive process. The industry as a whole has a major opportunity to capitalize on the economy-driven push for more renewable energy and the existing, undeveloped locations where hydropower can easily be deployed.
Sessions held at Waterpower Week focused on both technical and policy considerations to move hydropower forward and allow the industry to blossom. Additionally, discussions about engaging young adults in hydropower work and many different marine energy sessions were held as well – among many others.
Developing industry knowledge and understanding
For Sapere, attendance at Waterpower Week offered a valuable, in-depth experience full of opportunities to learn more and stay on the cutting edge of the industry. A consultant that truly understands not only industry basics and standards but current trends and possible future developments is in a far better position to effectively work with clients and realize positive results.