Environmental risks arise from hydro-plant in Vjosa riverbed

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 22, 2019 14:41

Environmental risks arise from hydro-plant in Vjosa riverbed

Story Highlights

  • As foreign and local scientists are warning on the environmental risks the hydro-plant would have on Vjosa’s ecosystem, a foreign news site about renewable energy has been praising the new floating solar panel to be built in Banje, urging Albania to go more green.

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TIRANA, May 16- A group of scientists from the University of Natural Resources in Vienna and the Polytechnic University of Tirana presented on Tuesday in Tirana the results of a two-year study on the river Vjosa. According to experts engaged in the study of the river Vjosa sediment and the impact of two hydropower plants along it in Pocem and Kalivac, the plants would adversely affect the natural course of sediment.

Dr. Christoph Hauer from the Water Management, Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering Institute in Vienna estimated that because of the high rates of transport of Vjosa sediments, the samples show an annual loss of the reservoir of about 2 percent in the case of Kalivac and more than 2 percent in the case of Pocem.

“This is more than twice the global average of accumulated annual losses, which significantly reduces energy production starting from the first year of operation,” Hauer said.

Experts estimated that this is expected to have very high economic costs for sediment management and treatment if it is intended to avoid technical problems. Researchers also estimated that the lack of sediment transport will lead to fragmentation of the river bed in the downstream, affecting groundwater levels and will cause coastal erosion and biodiversity loss. For the leader of the environmental organization EcoAlbania focused on biodiversity protection of Vjosa, Olsi Nika, the results of the study prove that the Albanian government will not meet the energy expectations it has in Vjosa.

“On the contrary, these projects will only bring a threefold loss situation – in economic, environmental and social terms,” ​​Nika said.

Present at the presentation of the study was also Theresa Schiller who is coordinator of the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” by EuroNatur, which promotes the protection of the rivers in Europe, drew attention to the importance of Vjosa’s defense. She said Vjosa is a rare river in Europe and should be preserved as part of our natural heritage. Hydropower projects will completely and irreversibly destroy this unique river ecosystem.

Experts warned the government that the plants will have adverse effects on the tourism and agriculture sector in the watershed of Vjosa, which is one of the last wild rivers in Europe. In 2017, an international team of scientists recorded during a short expedition hundreds of new living species in the River Vjosa, two of which were previously unknown to science, adding rumors of its basin protection from hydropower plant construction projects. Hydropower plans have been incessantly criticized by environmental activists, residents of the area, and the European Parliament in recent years. They are seen as a shortcut taken by the government for the exploitation of rivers at the expense of the severe environmental consequences, residents and the future of the country.

Meanwhile CleanTechnica, which calls itself the “#1 cleantech-focused news & analysis website in the US & the world, focusing primarily on electric cars, solar energy, wind energy, & energy storage,” praised the building of the new floating solar panels in Banje of Elbasan. We recall that Statkraft Albania signed a contract with Norwegian company Ocean Sun AS on March 2019 for cultivating solar panels with a maximal capacity of 2 MW at the hydropower tank of Banje. The project will consist of four floating units with 0.5 MW capacity each, and the overall investment amounts to 2.3 million euros.

CleanTechnica used this example to further write an article on the beneficence of solar panels for electricity production. They made an interview with Christian Rynning-Tønnesen who is CEO of Norway’s Statkraft, about his insights on renewable energy in general and floating solar in particular. Rynning-Tønnesen described a scenario in which 50 percent to 66 percent of electricity production globally will come from renewables within the next 20 years. Statkraft foresees solar taking the biggest share, followed by wind and hydropower in that order. According to that scenario hydropower comes in last, but floating solar gives hydro-centric companies like Statkraft a hand in the first place position as well.

“Solar by day and hydro by night can all be done in one plant, at a large scale,” Rynning-Tønnesen explained.

Floating solar panels can get a conversion efficiency boost, thanks to the cooling effect of the water upon which they rest. There are some technological challenges, but on the other hand there isn’t much need to invest in site prep when there is no ground to prep. Rynning-Tønnesen pointed out several other benefits at play in the Albania project, such as having no conflict with land area, since they will be using the surface of the reservoir.

“It is quite convenient to use the same power lines and some of the electrical equipment, and we already have people on the site,” Rynning-Tønnesen said

One criticism of floating solar is the cost compared to conventional ground or roof-mounted installations. According to Rynning-Tønnesen, the cost of the Albania project is about double the typical market rate. However, he noted that the project is a first generation, first of its kind thing. He pointed to the downward spiral in conventional solar costs as an indication that floating solar can become competitive, without subsidies, within a few years.

CleanTechnica said that an interesting thing about Albania is that it is almost entirely dependent on hydropower for electricity. The news site wrote that hydropower is subject to management issues as the impacts of climate change build up. The addition of floating solar panels to hydro plants could provide for more 24/7 stability, as Rynning-Tønnesen noted. In that context, consider that the Banja plant is practically brand new, having opened in 2016 as a project of Statkraft’s Albanian wing, Devoll Hydropower. It is the first of a series of hydropower stations under the umbrella of the Devoll River. When Banja’s sister plant, Moglicë, opens later this year the two facilities will have a total capacity of 256 megawatts. They will also increase Albania’s total energy production by an impressive 17 percent to 20 percent. That’s not including new clean megawatts from the floating solar project, which developer Ocean Sun puts at 2 megawatts.

This is a sort of demo project however, as our country is only putting its legs on the renewable energy choice, and if all goes well, Albania’s hydro reservoirs could be blooming with solar panels. CleanTechnica also added that a third hydropower plant could also be in the works on the Devoll River, depending on how it goes with the first two. All this is by way of saying that Albania does not appears to be on track for building its long-coveted nuclear power plant. According to the news site, Albania has been eyeballing nuclear power since at least 2007, though neighboring Montenegro is not so keen on the idea of locating it at Durres on the Adriatic Sea. That’s in line with Statkraft’s forecast. Rynning-Tønnesen told CleanTechnica that globally “we will see a massive change from coal and natural gas to renewables and natural gas,” which does not leave much wiggle room for nuclear energy.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 22, 2019 14:41