The waters of innovation: How AI is Redefining Hydropower in Europe

The waters of innovation: How AI is Redefining Hydropower in Europe

The hydropower sector is a key driver of the energy transition in Europe. In 2022, renewable energies accounted for 41.2% of the total electricity consumption in Europe, with hydropower representing 29.9% of total renewable generation.

As more energy sources are integrated into the European energy landscape, hydropower plays an essential role due to its flexibility. While the generation from other renewable sources like solar or wind is subject to uncontrollable variable weather conditions, it is possible to decide when to turbine the water from a reservoir or river to generate energy. This way, the hydropower sector helps maintain stability in the electrical grid by balancing demand and generation.

Figure 1. Sources of renewable energy in gross electricity consumption in the EU, 2022, Eurostat

In addition to its fundamental contribution to reducing CO2 emissions, this type of energy offers other environmental and socio-economic benefits. It regulates river flows through its dams, acting against flood threats and providing water supply for human consumption and the agricultural sector. Moreover, it can affect the development of local economies by generating employment, retaining human capital, and creating tourist attractions.

Emerging as a fundamental solution in Europe’s energy transition, hydropower is not without challenges and risks: One of the major challenges in Europe is the high age of infrastructures (an average of 45 years compared to 30 years in regions like Asia-Pacific or 15 years in China1), causing inefficiencies in energy production, increased maintenance stoppages, and production costs due to the need for investment and repair.

Additionally, climatic events are making their effects felt in all regions of the world. In Europe, many areas are experiencing more frequent, intense, and prolonged droughts. In the second half of 2022, this situation became evident with a significant reduction in hydropower production, particularly noticeable in the south of the continent, where a near 15% decrease in production was recorded.

Figure 2. Evolution over time of Guadalquivir basin capacity, S.A.I.H Guadalquivir.

This situation necessitates addressing intelligent management of water and hydropower resources. The iAMP-Hydro project (intelligent Asset Management Platform for Hydropower), coordinated by Trinity College Dublin and involving CARTIF, emerges as an innovative response to the challenges facing the European hydropower sector.

Within the framework of the project, a package of digital solutions based on artificial intelligence will be developed, validated in five hydropower plants distributed between Spain and Greece. These solutions will assist plant operators in decision-making by considering environmental and socio-economic factors.

The project includes a predictive maintenance solution through the development of advanced sensors capable of real-time monitoring of the state of turbines and installations. These devices will collect data which, through deep learning-based AI algorithms, will predict possible malfunctions before they occur. This will not only significantly reduce maintenance costs by up to 10% but also enable optimal scheduling of planned shutdowns adjusted to market conditions and socio-economic needs.

Furthermore, a set of specialized sensors will monitor various biodiversity parameters, ensuring that plant operations have the minimum possible environmental impact.

Figure 3. Bermejales HPP, iAMP-Hydro project

Lastly, CARTIF is leading the use of artificial intelligence techniques and neural networks to create predictive flow models. These models are designed to analyze patterns in historical data, including climate, and will be able to anticipate the potential energy a hydropower plant can generate over the next 7 days. This anticipation will allow for up to 23% more efficient plant operation, ensuring water availability while minimizing waste. In extreme drought situations like those in southern Europe, predictive models are being implemented to assess the short- and medium-term recovery capacity of hydroelectric reserves, considering various climate scenarios and irrigation demands. These models will provide operators with a clear vision of the plant’s evolution in the medium term and allow them to optimize the selection of the most suitable turbines for each operational scenario.

Researchers predict that iAMP-Hydro will improve the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of the current hydropower fleet by reducing operating costs by €1000 million, cutting CO2 emissions by 1,260 tons, creating 10,000 future jobs, and enabling environmentally sustainable flow regulation through digital solutions.

Current estimates show that digitizing the existing 1,225 GW of hydropower worldwide could increase annual production by 42 TWh, equivalent to $5000 million in annual operating savings2.

1 IEA. Hydropower Special Market Report; International Energy Agency: Paris, France, 2021; p. 126

2 Kougias, Ioannis & Aggidis, George & Avellan, François & Deniz, Sabri & Lundin, Urban & Moro, Alberto & Muntean, Sebastian & Novara, Daniele & Pérez-Díaz, Juan & Quaranta, Emanuele & Schild, Philippe & Theodossiou, Nicolaos. (2019). Analysis of emerging technologies in the hydropower sector. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 113. 10.1016/j.rser.2019.109257

REHOUSE. Working towards accelerating the EU building renovation rate

REHOUSE. Working towards accelerating the EU building renovation rate

In a world where sustainability is increasingly at the forefront of our concerns, the need for innovative solutions to transform our built environment is more pressing than ever. The current state of the EU building stock presents a significant challenge, acting as one of the largest energy consumers in Europe and responsible for over one third of the EU’s emissions.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the European Commission unveiled a new strategy in October 2020: “A Renovation Wave for Europe – Greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives.” This strategy represents a crucial step forward, aiming to incentivize investments in renovation and support the implementation of efficient methods and technologies.

Despite these efforts, the reality remains stark – over 75% of the EU building stock is not energy-efficient, and the annual renovation rate languishes at a mere 1%. The strategy emphasizes the need for deep renovations, those achieving over 60% reduction in energy consumption, as a top priority. The overarching goal? To double annual energy renovation rates over the next decade, not only to reduce emissions but also to enhance the quality of life for building occupants and create green jobs in the construction sector.

To achieve the depth and volume of renovation required, a strong and competitive construction sector is essential. Embracing innovation and sustainability is paramount to increasing quality and reducing production and installation costs. The Built4People European Partnership highlights three pillars crucial to this endeavour:

  1. Industrialized Technological Solutions: Embracing advanced technologies to streamline construction processes.

  1. Digitalization of the Construction Industry: Leveraging digital tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) to improve transparency and efficiency.

  1. Integration of Circularity Principles: Incorporating circular economy principles across the entire value chain, from materials sourcing to waste management.

In the midst of this pressing need for renovation innovation, REHOUSE emerges as a beacon of hope. Coordinated by CARTIF and under the Horizon Europe program, REHOUSE is poised to lead the charge in innovation within the construction sector. With a laser focus on deep renovations and circularity principles, REHOUSE aims to develop and demonstrate eight renovation packages incorporating promising technology innovations up to TRL7 (Integrated pilot system demonstrated).

These renovation packages are meticulously designed to overcome the main barriers that impede current EU renovation ratios. Through the integration of active/passive elements, prefabrication, and off-site construction, REHOUSE seeks to deliver affordable and sustainable renovation solutions with the flexibility to address nearly 100% of building renovation challenges at the EU level.

But what truly sets REHOUSE apart is its people-centric approach. By actively engaging residents and building owners throughout the renovation process, the project ensures that solutions are not only sustainable but also affordable, satisfactory, and attractive.

REHOUSE is now at its halfway point, demonstrating remarkable progress and achievements. The project has already established the basis for the social innovation strategy, detailed the specifications of innovative solutions, and produced digital versions of the Renovation Packages. Additionally, an innovative evaluation framework and technical building diagnosis of the demo-sites have been completed. The validation of the Renovation Packages (RPs) is underway to achieve TRL6 (Prototype system verified), accompanied by the development of guidelines for their industrialization. Furthermore, the project is actively defining specifications for the Digital Building Logbook, designing and preparing the groundwork for the later construction of the demo-sites, and outlining the pathway towards market achievement after the project concludes. These efforts mark the beginning of our journey to revolutionize renovation processes, driven by innovation and collaboration.

Join us on this transformative journey as we pave the way for a brighter, greener tomorrow with REHOUSE. Together, we can reshape our built environment, create sustainable spaces, and preserve our planet for generations to come.

This project has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101079951.

Central Asia, from its history marked by the silk route, to its present and promising future as a sources of renewable energy sources

Central Asia, from its history marked by the silk route, to its present and promising future as a sources of renewable energy sources

If any of us were asked what we know of Central Asia, perhaps we could say it’s a geographical region located in the heart of the Asian continent made up of several countries that emerged from the disintegration of the USSR. We might even be able to name some of them and even highlight the great ethnic and cultural diversity of the area, or its wealth of natural resources, especially natural gas and oil. But, above all, most of us are reminded of the importance of this region in history because of the Silk Road, an ancient trade network connecting East and West. What maybe few people know is the key role that this region now plays in the global energy landscape.

Made up of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the region, which is home to a population of over 70 million people, with projections to reach 90 million by 2050, is characterised by a diversity of landscapes, from high pastures and mountains to vast deserts and steppes, and several transboundary rivers, making the region independent in terms of water, energy and food. But the distribution of these resources, is not uniform; while the upstream countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – are rich in water resources, the downstream countries – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are rich in hydrocarbons. Thus, after the collapse of the Soviet System and the emerge of borders between them, these countries face huge challenges in terms of economic and political development, as well as environmental challenges related to the management of their natural resources, mainly in the water use, both for energy generation and agricultural demands, between upstream and downstream countries (because if the first ones consume too much water, the latter do not get enough to meet their demands in the same way as the first ones did).

Small hydropower is based on harnessing the kinetic energy of water, such as riverbeds, small waterfalls or irrigation canals, to generate electricity in a small hydropower plant. In the study region, small hydropower offers a great opportunity to take advantage of the presence of numerous rivers and streams to generate electricity in a sustainable and decentralised way, while providing local communities with an economic source of diversified energy generation. However, it is important to carefully assess the environmental and social impacts of each initiative in each of the countries in the region, as well as to ensure proper planning and management to avoid potential conflicts and ecological damage.

Central Hidroeléctrica Vectores por Vecteezy

In recent years, the five Central Asian countries have been engaged in detailed studies to exploit their renewable energy sources, which is why small-scale hydropower feasibility studies have been carried out in the region with different results and implementations to date, rehabilitating dams or building new ones.

Bases on these studies, we can infer that Tajikistan and Turkmenistan show a large hydropower potential, but only a tiny fraction has been exploited to date. On the other hand, Uzbekistan faces challenges due to altered river flows, while Turkmenistan has only sparsely developed hydropower capacity. Kazakhstan is working to increase its renewable energy capacity, including hydropower. In summary, each country it’s implementing specific initiatives to harness its hydropower potential and improve its energy infrastructure, but they continue to face challenges related to the unequal distribution of water resources.

At CARTIF, though the Hydro4U1project, we are supporting the region to address this huge challenge in order to ensure a sustainable supply of water, energy and food as well as to develop resilience to climate change, all aligned with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To this end, we are developing a system dynamics model to study the Water-Food-Energy Nexus (WFE) interlinkages and assess how the implementation of certain policies will affect energy and water security and the climate (or the fight against climate change) in these countries. It should be noted that our main objective, apart from the mentioned above, is to maximise the production of renewable electricity through the deployment of small-scale hydroelectric power plants, always ensuring the first instance the coverage of the remaining water demands (population supply, food production, industrial, etc.), taking into account the different climate change scenarios that the scientific community is considering (SSP126, SSP245, SSP585) to see their impact on the availability of water resources.

A complex challenge that is yet to be achieved!

1 This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation under grant agreement No 101022905

We ran out of light

We ran out of light

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a meeting of companies working in the field of information and communication technologies applied to the energy sector. Among the participants were representatives of companies that develop solutions based on artificial intelligence, electricity distributors, oil companies looking for a new path, research centres, etc. A person from Red Eléctrica de España (REE) also participated.

At a certain point in the ensuing debate, this person from REE made a comment that left the other participants speechless for a few moments. She said something disturbing, something unexpected, something disconcerting. This person from REE said that in the not too distant future we will have to forget about the idea of electricity being available all hours of the year. In other words, a representative of REE, which is the backbone of the Spanish electricity system, told those of use present that in the not too distant future there will not be electricity for everyone all the time.

Some surprise was visible on the faces of those at the round table with her. Some tried to clarify her words by mentioning demand response, a service whereby consumers forgo electricity consumption in exchange for compensation, like the SRAD1 currently in place in Spain. But she made it clear that this was not what she meant and insisted on the literalness of her words: there will be no electricity for everyone all the thime. I listened to her from my chair in the second row and three questions came to my mind: why this is going to happen, how is it going to affect us and how could it be avoided or at least alleviated.

The reason why energy for everyone all the time may come to an end is the renunciation of the use of fossil fuels. The day that happens we will only have renewable energies; and we already know that these are intermittent energy sources and cannot be controlled at will. In some countries, which is not likely to be the case in Spain, they will only be able to partially solve this problem by using nuclear energy. At least as long as they have acces to uranium mines, but that is another story that will have to be told another time.

Imagine what everyday life would be like without a secure electricity supply. It would become a scarce commodity and the price would increase. The energy companie could buy up battery farms to guarantee supply to those consumers disposed to pay even more. Many industries would become uncompetitive and migrate to countries with greater security of supply. Neighbourhoods of wealthy people would emerge with their ownmeans of generation and storage, allowing them to isolate themselves from the electricity system and avoid the problem. Those who could not afford to supplement or isolate themselves on their own energy island would suffer a new type of energy poverty. And we must bear in mind that in the not too distant future, home heating will be electrified, so increased dependence on electricity will exarcebate the problem.

What can we do to avoid this situation from affecting us to the point where we can no longer have a fridge at home? Perhaps the answer lies in local energy solutions, energy efficiency and intelligent energy use: generating electricity where it is used, not wasting energy, storing surplus energy, converting electrical energy into thermal energy and thermal energy into electrical energy, and managing energy use using advanced predicton, control and optimisation techniques (what some call artificial intelligence). What would be the optimal local environment: a neighbourhood, a city, a region? These local environments could be connected with their nearest neighbours to exchange surplus energy and perhaps move from a centralised electricity system to a chain of more or less self-sufficient energy islands. And I say more or less self-sufficient because the problem of large energy consumers, such as industries or data processing centres, those 21st century factories whose raw material is data, remains to be solved. Could SMRs (small modular reactors) be a solution for industrial parks in the not too distant future? Not in Spain, it seems. And it would also be necessary to solve the problem of those industrial processes that require temperatures that are not easy to reach without fossil fuels. It doesn´t seem that adaptating to a world without gas and oil is going to be easy, especially if we take into account that photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and batteries require a large use of energy (nowadays fossil) for their manufacture. Will those who advocate zero growth be right? Or will those who see in Mad Max´s Negociudad a reflection of what awaits us be right? At the moment we have people from REE sowing doubts about the security of supply in Spain.


The art of thermal comfort: revolutionising buildings with PCM and heat pumps

The art of thermal comfort: revolutionising buildings with PCM and heat pumps

Imagine living in a building where the temperature is as constant as grandma´s secret recipe. How to achieve it? This is where Phase Change Materials (PCM) and heat pumps powered by renewable energy come in, the dynamic duo of energy efficiency.

PCM are like zen masters of temperature, maintaining calm and balance in the environment by constantly storing and releasing heat. When combined with heat pumps that operate on solar or geothermal energy, they provide a clear guarantee that your home will maintain a constant temperature.

Here are some practical reasons to fall in love with this combination:

  • Thermal stability: thanks to PCMs, forget about sudden temperature changes. It´s like having a magic thermostat that always finds the perfect setting.
  • Energy savings: heat pumps, powered by renewable energy, are like wizards who convert sunlight or eart´s heat into real savings on your energy bill. More efficiency, less expense.
  • Ecofriendly: by joining forces, PCMs and heat pumps are like planet-friendly travelling companions. They contribute to reducing your carbon footprint, making your home greener than a meadow in spring.

Now, speaking of innovation, the European ThumbsUp project enters the scene. This project seeks to overcome the limitations of conventional technologies by developing innovative materials ,and in this sense, the CARTIF III building will be the test laboratory, showing how this technology can transform a building into an oasis of energy efficiency.

In short, the combination of PCM and heat pumps is an effective solution for simple thermal management. Get ready to say goodbye to extremes and welcome a home that is always cosy.

Today´s buildings, ready for tomorrow?

Today´s buildings, ready for tomorrow?

Did you know that we spend approximately 90% of our time inside buildings, and that they are responsible for more than 40% of energy consumption in the European Union? These places where we carry out our main activity are the core of our economy and society, but, how prepared are they for the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow?

The building sotck plays a key role in transforming the places where we work, live and socialise. The actions promoted by the European Union with the Green Deal or the Renovation Wave have sought to drive this change, Moreover, since the 2018 revision of the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)1– which, by the way, has just been updated again- the potential of smart technologies takes on a fundamental role. Digitalisation therefore seems to be key to reach the transformation of the places where we live, to enhance and contribute to the energy transition.

This is why in the 2018 revision of the EPBD directive the Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI)2 was also introduced as an optional shceme to measure the level of smart preparedness of buildings. This scheme is born in a first technical study for the European Commision in 2017/18 and is revised in a subsequent iteration on 2019/20, associating a calculation methodology3. It is in 2020 that its implementation is regulated for the first time4, and since 2021 a support team has been in place to assist with its adoption. Given its non-mandatory nature, the decision on its implementation lies with the member countries of the European Union, and for this reason it is currently in the voluntary testing phase in some countries, including Spain.

And what does this indicator allow us to know? The SRI assesses the building in terms of three key functionalities fully aligned with the concept of intelligence: (1) how the building responds to the needs of the occupants, (2) the use of strategies to improve energy efficiency and performance, (3) its ability to interact with the exterior and react to the environment. To this end, a catalogue of servicies classified into nine technical domains, assessed on the basis of seven impacts, is proposed.

Let´s see how it works with an example: you want to improve the performance of the building´s heating system. It may not be possible to realise automatic control, either central or even more advanced, allowing room-by-room control. Based on the level of functionality chosen, the higher the capability offered, the more intelligent the implementation will be assessed as being able to provide more beneficial impacts to users in terms of energy efficiency, comfort, convenience or health. These impacts will in turn score higher than services with lower functionality. The calculation method can be found in the final EC technical report cited above, and there are also supporting materials, examples and digital tools to make the process easier5.

Figure 1. Domains and SRI impact categories

The implementation of smart technologies can help us to achieve buildings that are better in terms of energy, healthier, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly. However, aspects such as the lack of knowledge and awareness, the need for accurate information to contextualise these recommendations, or the lack of user confidence in the benefits that smart solutions can bring, make their adoption less straightforward. There are numerous projects that aim to support the uptake activities of such an initiative, such as SMARTeeSTORY or BuildON, in which CARTIF is involved, where we will try to go a step further and offer support to end users on what measures to adopt for the smart transformation of the building and its improvement inthe desire domain/impact. We hope that in this way we can help to ensure that, in a not so distant future, the buildings in which our time moves forward will become the place where we would like to live.



3 European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy, Verbeke, S., Aerts, D., Reynders, G. et al., Final report on the technical support to the development of a smart readiness indicator for buildings – Final report, Publications Office, 2020,