Please tell us about the background of your organisation and your role in the HYPOSO project.
The Szewalski Institute of Fluid-Flow Machinery (IMP PAN) is a research institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, located in Gdansk, in direct neighbourhood of Gdansk University of Technology (GUT), a Polish technical university which in 1945 overtook the premises and a part of tradition of the famous TH Danzig. The Institute evolved in 1956 from the Self-dependent Turbomachinery Establishment of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The reason was the need to provide techno-scientific support for swiftly developing ZAMECH Mechanical Workshops – the main Polish steam turbine and ship propeller manufacturer, established in the former Schichau Elbing Workshop premises in Elblag. The spiritus movens of this initiative was Professor Robert Szewalski, GUT rector and designer of the first Polish steam turbine. Later on – a multiyear director of the IMP PAN.
Since the very beginning, the GUT graduates have constituted a significant portion of the IMP PAN engineering and scientific personnel. In particular, the graduates of the former Chair of Hydraulic Turbines and Hydromechanics commenced hydropower oriented activities in the IMP PAN Department of Hydromechanics which evolved later on into Department of Dynamics of Liquids and Department of Ship Propellers and Propulsors. Over the years the IMP PAN Department of Dynamics of Liquid, headed by my father, Professor Kazimierz Steller, became the key Polish centre of hydropower research oriented on hydraulic machinery design and O&M problems, including in-depth study of such phenomena as cavitation and hydraulic transients. The significance of the Department rose especially high in 1980-ies when the Polish Government initiated major power engineering oriented research and development programmes. After slowing down and eventual stopping the large hydro projects due to economic and political crisis in the beginning of the decade, a significant portion of the hydropower R&D efforts was reoriented on small hydro. At this time, most of activities aimed at development of Polish small hydro industry were co-ordinated from Gdansk. In the meantime the first private small hydropower installations have started to emerge in the country.
The political and economic transformation in the beginning of 1990-ies and the death of Professor Kazimierz Steller in 1992 have shown a profound impact on further development of his department. After a short break the Department of Dynamics of Liquids renewed its intense commercial and scientific links with hydropower industry, but it appeared impossible to conduct rational restructuring so as to respond to changing challenges both in the industrial activity and scientific research areas. In 1998 the Department was merged again with that of Ship Propellers and 10 years later became a part of the Centre for Hydrodynamics. Today the hydropower oriented activities are continued in the Department of Hydropower Engineering headed by Professor Adam Adamkowski and the Department of Cavitation headed by Professor Alicja Krella. Both departments emerged in 2008 from the former Department of Dynamics of Liquids. After numerous transformations followed by eventual closing activities of the successors to former Chair of Hydraulic Turbines and Hydromechanics at the Gdansk University of Technology, the IMP PAN is the only Polish lab equipped with a water turbines model test rig. Most of design works are continued in the Department of Cavitation. Due to natural conditions of the country, they are generally oriented on low head applications. However, the prospects for future are not quite clear due to staff scarcity and various other internal reasons.
Currently, the Departments of Cavitation and Hydropower Engineering take part in several hydropower projects including HYPOSO. Our main role in HYPOSO is contributing to various work packages by our expertise in the field hydraulic machinery design and operation, in particular by lecturing in capacity building courses in the field of hydraulic and electric machinery operation and maintenance as well as organising relevant events. The task of our team is also to analyse the socioeconomic and environmental impact of pilot small hydropower plants planned in the target countries of Africa and Latin America.
What is your stand on the role of hydropower in Europe, especially small hydropower?
There are no doubts that climate change is the main challenge to the mankind today. As the greenhouse gases of anthropogenic origin are generally considered responsible for acceleration of the global temperature rise, the social pressure on transition to non-emission energy sources gets ever stronger. On the other hand, irrespective of the reason, climate change cannot be disputed nowadays and we have to adapt to such phenomena as ever more severe droughts and increased risk of sudden and extensive floods.
Of course there are such countries like Austria, Norway or Switzerland, where hydropower contributes essentially to the energy mix. However, even in such countries as Poland, with hydropower contributing only by ca. 1.3 % to the mix, hydropower significance should rise immensely in the next decades in view of the need to provide the necessary energy storage and regulatory power capacities - both so important for the power system ever more intensely penetrated by the unstable renewable energy sources. The ancillary power system services are provided mainly by storage and pumped storage plants, sometimes also by river cascades run in the swell operation mode. The classic storage plants use generally multipurpose reservoirs which are of course of essential significance also for water management needs. As users or owners of dams and reservoirs the hydroelectric plants generally contribute to the erection and maintenance costs of the hydraulic civil works.
The mini and small hydropower plants (with power capacity between several hundred kW and 10 MW) can play the same role as large ones, but at the much smaller scale. Especially, as in view of swiftly rising number of unstable micro-installations the demand for local power balancing (also within the so called energy clusters) becomes ever more significant. The additional benefits include improving grid parameters at the national grid outskirts and lowering the energy losses in the distribution lines.
Except some islands, isle grids are not so frequent in Europe. Even in such case SHPs are usually not the only source of electricity if at all. However, it is important that some storage SHPs (including PSSHP) can take over important regulation duties in case of small isle grids or portions of major grids (e.g. within a cluster) disconnected from the main part due to an emergency situation.
Of course, SHPs are of paramount significance for the water management sector as well. The main benefit is care or at least partial financing O&M costs of dams and multipurpose reservoirs by SHPs owners. Due to large number of small hydro installations, the SHPs may this contribute significantly to improving water hydrological conditions at large territories, but also avoiding some local floods.
With regards to your role in HYPOSO, what do you expect to achieve in the target countries?
HYPOSO is generally expected to be beneficial both to the small hydropower sector in the target countries and the small hydropower industry within the EU. I strongly believe that spreading information on European industry experience and capabilities will be really helpful for our partners. As a Polish citizen I hope also that the IMP PAN activity will help Polish manufacturers and developers to access new markets.
You are also the organizer of the HYDROFORUM congress. Can you tell us a little bit about this event?
HYDROFORUM 2021 was already the 10th event in the series of Polish Hydropower Conferences, organised annually ever since 2011. However, the history of HYDROFORUM is much longer as the first conference under this name was held already in 1973, 2 years af-ter commissioning the Żydowo pumped storage power plant in Pomerania region of Poland. The original HYDROFORUM Conferences were organised every 4 to7 years and dealt with various problems of hydraulic turbomachines, especially those encountered in power industry. The main organiser was Department of Dynamics of Liquids of the Szewalski Institute of Fluid-Flow Machinery. Due to the IMP PAN industrial connections, hydropower was always in the focus of the debate and hydropower companies were usually the main partners of the events. An important component of the event was always a study visit to a new or newly refurbished installation. Right from the beginning the conferences were addressed to representatives of industry, research and development institutions and universities. Initially, the delegates came from Poland, some East European countries and East Germany. Sometimes these were Poles living in the West European countries. The conference contributions were delivered in Polish, English, German and Russian. It was only in 2000 that a bilingual Polish/English formula was adopted and the simultaneous interpretation was introduced. Even without this step, the conferences gained swiftly good opinion due to their technical level, interesting debate and study tours. The last two conferences in this series were held in 2000 and 2005 in Czorsztyn Tourist Village (Podhale Region) and Kliczków Castle (Lower Silesia Region), respectively. In both cases - with strong support of the Polish Hydropower Association.
The series of Polish Hydropower Conferences was initiated in 2011 by the so called Validation Workshop of the SHP STREAMMAP project. The workshop and the conference accompanied the annual RENEXPO Poland event in Warsaw. It is worthwhile to mention that SHP STREAMMAP was one of the last EU projects co-ordinated by the European Small Hy-dropower Association (ESHA). The RENEXPO Poland naming was used for our conferences until 2017 when REECO Group withdrew eventually from their engagement in our country. Throughout all this time the main organisers were the Szewalski Institute of Fluid-Flow Machinery, the Polish Hydropower Association and the Polish Association for Small Hydropower Development.
In 2018 the old name and logo of HYDROFORUM were adopted. In their current formula the HYDROFORUM events represent first of all a platform for discussing challenges encountered by the hydropower sector in Poland and in Europe in view of changes in its legal & administrative constraints, but also capabilities resulting from the available potential, technology and environmental requirements. On the other hand the conferences serve exchange of opinions and information on the prospects and observed trends in sector development, experience on erection and operation of hydropower installations, new solutions to technical problems and the results of R&D efforts. Since 2017 the conferences are organised at various sites in Poland and always connected with a study visit to a hydropower plant of some special technical value.
The HYDROFORUM 2021 conference was initially planned to take place in the Szewalski Institute of Fluid-Flow Machinery. However, due to space scarcity and very high interest of potential delegates the venue was moved to the historical Main Hall of Gdansk University of Technology. Eventually, the Conference debate took place on October 13th and 14th and was attended by 130 delegates who presented 36 contributions - including the introductory lectures on HYDROFORUM background and history, as well as on the person of Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky on the 100th anniversary of the first long distance transmission of the 3-phase current from a hydroelectric power plant. The last lecture was delivered by Dr Piotr Szymczak, president of the Polish Association of Electrical Engineers who also presented some honorary medals to several eminent Polish hydropower engineers and scientists. The topic of the traditional HYDROFORUM Debate was Hydropower in the energy transition and the policy of mitigating the climate change effects in Poland and within the region. The panellists included representatives of some significant Polish companies and renowned experts from Poland and other European countries. The other panel debate was organised by the NORWEP (Norwegian Energy Partners) foundation and concerned a hot topic of hybrid power plants – especially hydropower plants with a floating photovoltaic component.
The conference took place only 2 days after HYPOSO interim meeting which took place on October 11th in the Grano Hotel, in direct neighbourhood of the historical centre of Gdansk. The HYPOSO presence provided a good opportunity to include a brief project session in the conference programme. The session was chaired by Prof. Bernhard Pelikan and the contributions delivered dealt with the HYPOSO promotion/matchmaking platform for the EU SHP industry (I. Ball, D. Rutz) and GIS techniques as applied for planning small hydro projects in remote areas (P. Punys, G. Vyčienė, L. Jurevičius, A. Balčiūnas). The day between the HYPOSO meeting and the HYDROFORUM Conference was used for a study visit in the nearby Żarnowiec Pumped Storage Power Plant (the largest Polish hydropower plant), an afternoon walk through the Gdansk historical centre and the reception of the Polish Hydropower Association. A study visit to Żarnowiec Pumped Storage Power Plant ended also the whole HYDROFORUM 2021 conference on October 15th.
HYDROFORUM 2021 is generally considered a greater success in the sequence of Polish Hydropower Conferences. The book of abstracts, all presentations and numerous photographs are available from the Polish Hydropower Association (Towarzystwo Elektrowni Wodnych) website. Numerous papers based on conference contributions are already being published in the Energetyka Wodna quarterly. The authors of selected contributions will be invited to submit their papers to the special issue of Transactions of the Institute of Fluid-Flow Machinery. The next year event is planned to take place in Warsaw and to be linked with a visit to Dębe Hydropower Plant (now under refurbishment).
If you could wish one thing for the hydropower sector, what would it be?
Thank you for this question. Providing a reasonable answer is not so easy if only one thing is to be selected. My response may astonish you, but after some consideration I find that proper education of the younger generation is the most needed factor. Of course, education is important in various fields of human activity, as it enables sustainable progress of our civilisation with due respect to the natural environment. Some people may consider this way of thinking naïve, but I do strongly believe that proper education and easy access to the knowledge are the best vaccines against political manipulation, prejudices, social and even national conflicts. The reflection on education impact on sustainable growth of our economy refers in particular to hydropower which is not mentioned among renewables in Polish primary school textbooks. Numerous Polish secondary school students do benefit of only one hour of physics a week – much, much less than me over half a century ago, under the Communist regime in Poland. These young people can go now to the streets and require politicians to do something against the climate change, but with their poor education they will have immense problems to do anything by themselves after having grown up. Further on, they can get easily manipulated by the green NGOs demanding removal of dams while forgetting that biodiversity will extinct if there is no water in the rivers and requiring development of emission-free electricity sources while forgetting about hydropower necessary for large scale energy storage and grid ancillary services.
Having said the above, I think there is one factor of even more fundamental significance – a sincere good will and true long term commitment of decision-makers to cope with the main challenges of our civilization. For this purpose the strategic thinking should never be replaced by the wishful one or that oriented merely on the next parliamentary elections. Advertising new renewable energy technologies and public actions for environmental protection may be highly welcome, but they should never replace high quality education based on solid grounds of natural and technical sciences.
The beginning of the year 2022 is a good opportunity to wish all the readers of this newsletter a real progress in this direction, a really good will to be found among people in their surroundings, success in pursuing their goals, happiness and prosperity in their personal life. And of course, good health - without SARS Covid-19!