Long before the Green Party and concerns about global warming and Peak Oil, people were already asking why Britain makes so little use of hydro-electric power. Countries like Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France are way ahead of us. In fact, 24% of the world’s total energy output is from hydro-electric power stations. In the UK it is 1.5%.
While steep mountains and gorges sometimes help, they are not essential and often a hindrance. A study from the World Atlas of Hydropower and Dams indicates the UK has much to gain from increasing investment in small-scale hydro-electric plants. An additional 900 MW from hydro has been proposed as a moderate target (see https://www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/country/united-kingdom/hydropower/).
Hydro-electric in Britain has always had a bootstrap problem: because it is inexperienced in hydro-electric generation, it does not have the capital, skilled labour and entrepreneurs to invest; because it does not invest, it lacks the capital, skilled labour and entrepreneurs.
Plant construction is complicated from the civil engineering point of view. River management, underground generators, environmental risks and access logistics are all difficult to manage, but hardly impossible.
While most of us assume the management of nuclear power plants is difficult and risky, management of hydro-electric plants is no holiday either. Numerous things can go wrong and require swift attention. Without an experienced workforce, investors tend to view hydro-plant operation as a much bigger challenge than is perhaps the case. Continue reading How robots are creating more efficient warehouses
The recent availability of intelligent technologies like AI, the IoT and safer electrical control components can offer new solutions. A good deal of the labour and decision-making involved in operating a power plant can now be delegated to automated machinery able to do it better, safer and without human fatigue. Most of the components needed to regulate plant machinery and link them to centralised control rooms can already be found in the catalogues of electrical suppliers like http://www.osmelectrical.com/.
Today’s control and monitoring software can gather vast amounts of data from almost any component in a plant, factory, vehicle or residential building. By continual processing of this data, AI systems are no longer restricted to making pre-programmed responses but can actually teach themselves to run the station better. The amount of human labour and human know-how needed to run a modern hydro-electric plant is therefore now radically less than investors seem to think.
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