Vattenfall's research stations in Älvkarleby and Porjus are creating new opportunities for hydro power. The research station in Porjus is conducting large-scale trials involving turbines which rely not on ball bearings but on magnetic power, and developing new, more efficient generators based on ground-breaking technology.
At the research station in Älvkarleby they are simulating the behaviour of water in rivers. Riverbeds have been scanned using remotely controlled echosounders, and the data obtained have been used to create precise models of the bed profiles using advanced 3D printers.
The latest information on the hydro power sector was presented by Vattenfall's head of R&D, Karl Bergman, and finance director and R&D manager for Hydro Power, Fredrik Engström, at the seminar on hydro power in Almedalen.
Digital technology and other technical advances will ensure the continued success of hydro power over the next hundred years, said Bergman, quoting just one of many examples:
"We have thousands of sensors connected to our dams and other equipment. Thanks to digital technology we can use them to predict damage and prevent problems at an early stage".
Remotely controlled drones
He demonstrated another innovation live to the audience: remotely controlled drones can be used to scan equipment which is difficult and dangerous to access.
Hydro power has gone from being the dominant baseload (plannable power) in Sweden to playing an ever greater role as balancing power with the growth of renewable energy generation. Hydro power steps in and covers for wind power when there is no wind, or when there is a cold snap and demand for electricity is at its greatest.
"Provided that the reservoirs are full, all you have to do is open the floodgates and run more turbines when needed," said Engström.
The Suorva dam in the Lule river has an energy capacity equivalent to a billion Tesla batteries. This is a huge asset that nature replenishes for nothing on an ongoing basis.
Globally unique model
The dams are a fantastic resource, but hydro power generation causes problems for fish. The advent of hydro power completely changed the conditions for the fish that inhabit our rivers.
"To find out more about fish behaviour, a globally unique model which simulates in detail how fish and moving water interact has been built in Älvkarleby," said Bergman. "The model was created to ensure that fish ladders are built in the best possible way and that the water intake of power plants is designed in a fish-friendly way."