Uwe Wehnhardt is president and the chief executive officer of Voith Hydro, having taking up the role in January 2016. He describes the organisation as “a 150-year old family-owned business with a lot of innovations and the power to turn every next day better than yesterday". Uwe spoke with us about recently completed projects, current industry conditions and prospects, and complexities shaping public perception of hydropower. In May 2017, he will speak on the topic of capacity-building at the 2017 World Hydropower Congress.
How would you describe the hydropower sector today? And what does the future hold for the industry?
It is a great sector I really enjoy being involved in. For me, hydropower is the most important source of renewable energy, and I believe we have great technology at Voith.
The sector itself has a great potential, which is evident when you take a look at the numbers: the installed base has reached 1,300 GW, and there is still a potential for more than 4,000 GW of capacity to be added – a lot of room for business, but also for technological improvement, all leading to reduction in global CO² emission level.
When talking about the transformative role of hydropower, is there a recent hydropower project you’ve worked on that comes to mind?
I can mention a lot of projects, but I want to talk about Santo Antonio in Brazil. When fully operational, the Santo Antônio plant will be one of the largest power plants in Brazil with approximately 3,600 MW installed capacity. We delivered 15 turbines and 11 generators.
Projects like Santo Antonio have a huge impact on the economy and in turn on the development of society and communities. Going for hydropower is a good decision for communities to make. Unlike solar or wind technology, which are heavily dependent on weather resources, hydropower can produce energy continuously and feed the constant demand.
Moreover, it is extremely important for us to have robust protocols in place to determine the right locations for hydropower plants. Equally important is ‘to prepare the ground’ for future projects, by having talks and discussion with local communities.
At Voith, we believe the only way to help communities grow is to provide them with energy, to power schools, hospitals, etc. Business development always starts with energy, and we trust renewable energy is the best for this purpose.
As the installation of solar and wind technologies is on the rise, there is no other solution than using pumped storage to balance the grid."
What future do you see for pumped storage technology?
I see the future for pumped storage to be very positive, as the demand is growing. As the installation of solar and wind technologies is on the rise, there is no other solution than using pumped storage to balance the grid.
Incidentally, we have a very strong capability in pumped storage technology. Among numerous projects we have completed to date, there is one in Portugal, Frades II, where we installed world’s fastest variable speed reversible power unit (pump turbine and motor generator).
Also, we have many smaller hydropower projects in our portfolio, which we executed with equal care and attention, helping our customers to benefit from a high level of performance.
As a decision-maker, what keeps you awake at night?
What bothers me is the fact that the reputation of hydropower has not yet reached the same level other renewable energy industries enjoy.
I think we have some work to do in order to better position ourselves for the future, and we should use any opportunity available to promote ourselves.
From my point of view, IHA is an excellent organisation representing the hydropower sector in the best possible way. This is mainly due to the diversity of its members, which include equipment providers, customer utilities, consulting companies and other industry participants doing business together, but also partner institutions that are involved in the sector.
Because of this diverse make-up, IHA is well positioned to lead the contemporary hydropower sector.
Why in your mind does hydropower suffer from relatively low public perception when compared to other renewables?
It is a complex question to which I can only give a partial response.
Other renewable developments, such as solar and wind, are very visible, with a large number of people and businesses involved. Hydropower plants, on the other hand, are usually situated in remote locations, with a limited number of people employed. Perhaps due to the longevity of the sector, we are, in essence, a kind of conservative industry, not making too much noise about itself. Other groups are much more vocal than we are.
As a result, public awareness of hydropower and its benefits is much less established in society.
Uwe Wehnhardt wil speak in a session on capacity-building and skills shortages at the 2017 World Hydropower Congress, held in Addis Ababa on 9–11 May 2017. You can find out more about the session and other speakers here.
Dr Norbert Riedel, chief technical officer at Voith, will be speaking in a session at the congress on renewable energy storage. More information about that session is available here.
You can browse the full congress agenda here.