Hydropower in Sweden faces major environmental and production challenges. Its importance as a base and control power is increasing, which also places demands on further optimization with the help of AI. But at the same time, the challenges are many.
Hydropower today plays a central role in Sweden's renewable electricity supply and in enabling us to convert the electricity system to one hundred percent renewable electricity production. In total, there are currently approximately 2,100 hydropower plants in Sweden, which together during a normal year produce 67 TWh. This corresponds to 45 percent of our total electricity production in the country. Of these hydropower plants, the 255 largest account for about 98 percent of the total installed capacity.
Large parts of the production of hydropower can be quickly adapted based on consumption. This function as regulating power is becoming increasingly important in an energy system, which is gradually becoming more dependent on renewable electricity - primarily in the form of wind power, but also to certain parts of solar power.
New environmental law reduces production
But the challenges of hydropower are many. In January 2019, following pressure from the EU, new legislation was introduced for the aquatic environment and hydropower in Sweden. Under the new legislation, a national timetable has been set for when the conditions for each power plant are to be tried in court. The first hydropower plants will have their water judgments reconsidered this year and the process will then continue for another 20 years.
The goal for Swedish hydropower is to by the year 2040 be fully adapted to the EU framework directive, which sets out clear and tough requirements for what constitutes a good aquatic environment. This at the same time as the country has set another goal - to achieve one hundred percent renewable electricity production by the same year.
NAP is world-unique
The Swedish Marine and Water Authority (HaV) is responsible for the national plan for the conversion of Swedish hydropower (NAP). NAP is a huge project, both in terms of scope and time perspective. The plan has taken a national holistic view and describes when the country's various facilities are to be tried by Sweden's five land and environmental courts. The County Administrative Board is then responsible for the collaboration process itself.
This approach - to take a national holistic view of the environmental impact of hydropower - is unique in the world. The rulings will lead to demands for necessary environmental investments. To assist the power plants, eight of the larger energy companies have set aside around SEK 10 billion in a fund - Vattenkraftens Miljöfond. The fund finances up to 85 percent of the costs of investigation, review of environmental measures in court and the implementation of the measures decided by the court.
Everyone who is covered by the national plan and conducts water operations for the production of hydropower in Sweden can apply for compensation here. The fund can also compensate for any production losses.
Clear requirements from the industry
The industry has demanded that the entire process must not risk a total production loss of a maximum of 1.5 TWh per year, a national guideline value that is also supported by the Swedish Energy Agency and Svenska Kraftnät. The guide value is entered in NAP.
- In the reconsideration process, all power plants are visible based on environmental benefits and electricity production. It is thus the courts that will here reconcile the different conflict of cases from case to case. It is worrying that the guideline value of 1.5 TWh is not written into law but as a planning goal. The risk is that the target of limiting production losses to a maximum of 1.5 TWh is exceeded. This is not the medicine the Nordic power system needs today, says Andreas Wiklander, Operations Manager at Jämtkraft.
More efficient production with AI
Demand for hydropower as a base and control power will grow in the future. According to Svenska Kraftnät, new products will emerge in power flexibility. It will probably also be more complex to optimize production as a consequence of new modern environmental conditions (more influencing factors). All in all, this increases the need to optimize and streamline the production itself with the help of AI. However, it will never be able to be completely autonomous.
- We conduct a business that requires a permit, where the consequences of each mistake risk being fatal. There are several aspects to take into account in the form of personal safety, legal requirements, business acumen and not least our own willingness to protect fixed assets. AI is a fantastic tool when it comes to producing production and price forecasts and for optimizing the processes, but the safe operation of our facilities always comes first. Therefore, we currently make the assessment that there must always be a human in the background who can intervene and take over when something is about to go wrong, Andreas Wiklander concludes.