The new revolution of hydropower digitization

The new revolution of hydropower digitization

By Emanuele Quaranta

Hydropower is the world’s most mature and ancient renewable energy source, producing 1300 GW of power worldwide. It is a field in rapid evolution and with several emerging technologies. Among new trends and technologies, the digitization of hydropower plants will play a particularly crucial role.

The new revolution of hydropower digitalization

Figure from Kougias et al. (2019)

The value of hydropower digitization:

The generation of the vast amount of digitized data at all stages of an energy supply chain is of extreme importance for the optimal control and management of any power plant. In the hydropower sector, digitization is becoming an integral element of all stages of development, from planning and design, to construction and operation. Digitization is a key opportunity to improve the hydropower sector by capturing the value of data, improving production, and reducing the occurrence of unexpected behavior.

Most of the hydropower plants in operation today were designed decades ago, and many work in different conditions from those existing at the time they were designed. Furthermore, the large share of solar and wind intermittent generation has also yielded unstable behaviors in the electrical power system, putting at risk its stability.

Therefore, the collection and processing of real-world data to adjust the actual working conditions of hydropower turbines can provide advanced grid support services without compromising reliability and safety. A total 42 TWh could be added to present hydropower energy production by implementing hydropower digitization, which is 1.3% of additional annual energy generation, leading to USD $5 billion in savings and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced if that energy were generated by other sources. 

Digitization will enable a drastically reduced response time of hydro units, especially those of reversible pump-turbines. It will also allow the assessment of the economic impact of offering additional reserve flexibility. In the next section, two industrial case studies on digitization are described.

Industrial hydropower digitization case studies:

The Hydro Efficiency Analysis (HydEA) Platform:

HydEA (from Enel Green Power) is a platform where an algorithm analyzes the behavior of the plant and produces a reference model of the performance characteristics of the generation units. This allows the real-time detection of deviations from the expected values, allowing engineers to immediately deal with anomalies that would reduce the efficiency, for example, a less-than-optimal rotational speed or blade opening. 

The new revolution of hydropower digitalization

Real-time monitoring of hydropower plants. Source: Enel Green Power

HydEA develops algorithms to maximize the overall plant efficiency through the best combination of operating turbines. The first real application of this platform, on an Italian hydroelectric plant, increased the production of the plant by 1.2% on an annual basis by better subdividing the flow rate, thus increasing the energy efficiency among the generation units.

The Hydro-Clone Digital Twin Technology:

The Hydro-Clone is an innovative Real-Time Simulation Monitoring System (RTSM) by Power Vision Engineering. It is a numerical copy of a hydropower plant that is able to reproduce in real-time any dynamic behavior of the installation based on boundary conditions measured in situ. Hydro-Clone diagnoses the health of the plant through numerical cloning of the major hydraulic and electrical components. The system handles the tasks of real-time acquisition and transfer of the measured boundary conditions and quantities to the model, data processing, and diagnosis of the power plant health.

A tailor-made archival storage and related database system enables the display and analysis of previous results. The analysis and comparison of simulated and measured quantities enable the system to understand at any time the health state and behavior of all essential components of the plant and to estimate nonmeasured or nonmeasurable quantities throughout the whole system. The Hydro-Clone system has been implemented and tested since 2014 at the 200 MW La Batiaz power plant and has been operating continuously for more than 5 years.


The hydropower industry throughout the world, and especially in Europe, is currently in a phase of digitization driven by new possibilities opened up by cheaper solutions for data collection and storage, cheaper sensor technology, and new solutions for data analysis. Hence, hydropower digitization is a sector in rapid development, well supported by the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. The increase of energy generation by about 1.3% that was estimated to occur due to the implementation of hydropower digitization is in line with the case studies discussed here and should stimulate future development in this sense.

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