What is the carbon impact / payback of a hydro? It should be very good but nobody really knows!

what is the carbon impact of a hydro + and -. We intend to find out. The weir being built at Hafod y Llan

what is the carbon impact of a hydro ( + and -). We intend to find out. The weir being built at Hafod y Llan

This is the latest in a battery of questions we have been asking or being asked. These questions are beyond the nuts, bolts, Kw’s and cash. Mark Walton is now drafting the social impact aspect of a community hydro and he has focused on what are perceived to be more difficult to measure and intangible aspects. ie to a community what difference do renewables make beyond the obvious cash injection.

The next question on our list is “what does the carbon budget look like for a hydro?” I have seen a lot of steel, ductile iron, concrete, machinery, helicopters and so on being invested into the making of a ‘sustainable’ energy system. But in terms of a carbon balance sheet such as inputs and outputs what are we talking about?  In a life cycle analysis format what does the carbon payback look like? It’s a question which is often asked of more perceived contentious renewables such as wind and to some extent PV. But what of a hydro? It is difficult to get the data in terms of materials and processes. We have now teamed up with the University of Bangor team working on the ‘Hydro BPT’ project and one of the aims of the project is to understand the life cycle aspect of a hydro. They have good data sets (including  the carbon footprint of a helicopter!) We have agreed to work in partnership to get a handle on the carbon budget of the Snowdon Hydro.

Life Cycle Analysis is also much more than Carbon. we are using Carbon as a proxy measure (Hydro LCB slide)

Life Cycle Analysis is also much more than Carbon. we are using Carbon as a proxy measure (Hydro BPT slide)

We are also looked further ahead to see if we could work towards a form of carbon decision-making tool. For example we know the cash difference between ductile iron pipe and MDPE but what does it mean in terms of carbon? Turbine building fabric, fly ash in the concrete mix and so on. Bangor’s work so far on certain hydros has shown a staggeringly quick payback in terms of Carbon but the data needs improving and I hope we can help and have one of the first high head hydros to have a full and detailed carbon payback budget. Lets see?

Devils in the detail. this is one of the case studies the Hydro BPT have been working on. quite a level of detail required

Devils in the detail. this is one of the case studies the Hydro BPT have been working on. quite a level of detail required

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2 Responses to What is the carbon impact / payback of a hydro? It should be very good but nobody really knows!

  1. Nick Mills says:

    Very interesting – and IO’ll be facinated to see the answer, especially if it can be compared to other fuel technologies – PV, Nuclear, Gas etc.
    Do you consider the carbon used by the contractors vehicles getting to site? What sticky level of detail do you go to?
    I’ve tried to do the same for PV, and have got answers between 9 months and 18month for the PV module alone, without installation or inverter & other hardweare, but I fear a lot of incidental carbon is left out of the equation.
    Still much better than fossil fuel though!

    • Keith Jones says:

      Thanks for this. In terms of levels of detail. Setting up a meeting with suppliers and contractors to see what can be captured in a meaningful way. We start on our next hydro in a couple of months. Lets see if we can set the data capture from inception. The gap in knowledge from the ones conducted thus far is in the manufacturing processes and not materials which have fairly good data sets. Lets see who wants to play ball and to what level. Initial estimates on other hydros is less than a year and a half. But you know as well as I do. Bespoke is the name of the game with hydros

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