Run-of-river hydroelectricity (ROR) or run-of-the-river hydroelectricity is a type of hydroelectric generation plant whereby little or no water storage is provided. Run-of-the-river power plants may have no water storage at all or a limited amount of storage, in which case the storage reservoir is referred to as pondage. A plant without pondage is subject to seasonal river flows, thus the plant will operate as an intermittent energy source. Conventional hydro uses reservoirs, which regulate water for flood control and dispatchable electrical power.
Run-of-the-river or ROR hydroelectricity is considered ideal for streams or rivers that can sustain a minimum flow or those regulated by a lake or reservoir upstream. A small dam is usually built to create a headpond ensuring that there is enough water entering the penstock pipes that lead to the turbines which are at a lower elevation. Projects with pondage, as opposed to those without pondage, can store water for daily load demands. In general, projects divert some or most of a river's flow (up to 95% of mean annual discharge) through a pipe and/or tunnel leading to electricity-generating turbines, then return the water back to the river downstream.
ROR projects are dramatically different in design and appearance from conventional hydroelectric projects. Traditional hydro dams store enormous quantities of water in reservoirs, sometimes flooding large tracts of land. In contrast, run-of-river projects do not have the disadvantages associated with reservoirs, which is why they have less environmental impact.
The use of the term "run-of-the-river" for power projects varies around the world. Some may consider a project ROR if power is produced with no water storage while limited storage is considered ROR by others. Developers may mislabel a project ROR to soothe public perception about its environmental or social effects. The Bureau of Indian Standards describes run-of-the-river hydroelectricity as:
A power station utilizing the run of the river flows for generation of power with sufficient pondage for supplying water for meeting diurnal or weekly fluctuations of demand. In such stations, the normal course of the river is not materially altered.
Many of the larger ROR projects have been designed to a scale and generating capacity rivaling some traditional hydro dams. For example, the Beauharnois Hydroelectric Generating Station in Quebec is rated at 1,853 MW. Some run of the river projects are downstream of other dams and reservoirs. The run of the river project didn't build the reservoir, but does take advantage of the water supplied by it. An example would be the 1995 1,436 MW La Grande-1 generating station. Previous upstream dams and reservoirs are part of the 1980s James Bay Project.
There are also small and somewhat mobile forms of a run-of-the-river power plants. One example is the so-called electricity buoy. That is a small floating hydroelectric power plant. Like most buoys it is anchored to the ground, in this case in a river. The energy within the moving water propels a power generator and thereby creates electricity. Prototypes by commercial producers are generating power on the Middle Rhine river in Germany and on the Danube river in Austria.
When developed with care to footprint size and location, ROR hydro projects can create sustainable energy minimizing impacts to the surrounding environment and nearby communities. Advantages include:
Cleaner power, fewer greenhouse gases
Like all hydro-electric power, run-of-the-river hydro harnesses the natural potential energy of water, eliminating the need to burn coal or natural gas to generate the electricity needed by consumers and industry. Moreover, run-of-the-river hydro-electric plants do not have reservoirs thus eliminating the methane and carbon dioxide emissions caused by the decomposition of organic matter in the reservoir of a conventional hydro-electric dam. This is a particular advantage in tropical countries where methane generation can be a problem.
Without a reservoir, flooding of the upper part of the river does not take place. As a result, people remain living at or near the river and existing habitats are not flooded. Any pre-existing pattern of flooding will continue unaltered, presenting a flood risk to the facility and downstream areas.
Run-of-the-River power is considered an "unfirm" source of power: a run-of-the-river project has little or no capacity for energy storage and hence can't co-ordinate the output of electricity generation to match consumer demand. It thus generates much more power during times when seasonal river flows are high (i.e., spring freshet), and depending on location, much less during drier summer months or frozen winter months.
Availability of sites
The potential power at a site is a result of the head and flow of water. By damming a river, the head is available to generate power at the face of the dam. Where a dam may create a reservoir hundreds of kilometres long, in run of the river the head is usually delivered by a canal, pipe or tunnel constructed upstream of the power house. Due to the cost of upstream construction, a steep drop is desirable, such as falls or rapids.
Small, well-sited ROR projects can be developed with minimal environmental impacts. Larger projects have more environmental concerns. In the case of fish-bearing rivers a ladder may be required and dissolved gases downstream may affect fish.
In British Columbia the mountainous terrain and wealth of big rivers have made it a global testing ground for 10–50 MW run-of-river technology. As of March 2010, there were 628 applications pending for new water licences solely for the purposes of power generation – representing more than 750 potential points of river diversion.
- Diverting large amounts of river water reduces river flows, affecting water velocity and depth, reducing habitat quality for fish and aquatic organisms; reduced flows can lead to excessively warm water for salmon and other fish in summer.
- In undeveloped areas, new access roads and transmission lines can cause habitat fragmentation, allowing the introduction of invasive species.
- The lack of reservoir storage may result in intermittent operation, reducing the project's viability.
- Belo Monte Dam, 11,233 megawatts (15,064,000 hp), Pará, Brazil
- Chief Joseph Dam, 2,620 megawatts (3,510,000 hp)
- Beauharnois Hydroelectric Power Station, Quebec, Canada, 1,903 megawatts (2,552,000 hp)
- Bonneville Dam, 1,092 megawatts (1,464,000 hp)
- Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd, Satluj River, Shimla, India, 1,500 megawatts (2,000,000 hp)
- Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower Project on River Indus in Pakistan, 1,450 megawatts (1,940,000 hp)
- La Grande-1 generating station, Quebec, Canada, 1,436 megawatts (1,926,000 hp)
- Kohala Hydropower Project, Jhelum River, Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, 1,100 megawatts (1,500,000 hp)
- Neelum–Jhelum Hydropower Plant, Jhelum River, Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, 969 megawatts (1,299,000 hp)
- Baglihar Hydroelectric Power Projection the Chenab River in India, 900 megawatts (1,200,000 hp)
- Carillon Generating Station, Quebec, Canada, 752 megawatts (1,008,000 hp)
- Upper Tamakoshi Project, Nepal, 456 MW
- Nyagak Hydroelectric Power Station on Nyagak River in Zombo District, Uganda, 3.5 megawatts (4,700 hp)
- East Toba/Montrose Hydro Project, British Columbia, Canada, 196 megawatts (263,000 hp)
- Forrest Kerr Hydro Project, British Columbia, Canada, 195 megawatts (261,000 hp)
- Patrind Hydropower Plant, Kunhar River, Pakistan, 150 megawatts (200,000 hp)
- Upper Toba Valley, British Columbia, Canada, 123 megawatts (165,000 hp)
- Upper Kotmale Hydropower Project, Talawakele, Sri Lanka, 150 megawatts (200,000 hp)
- Kukule Ganga Power Station, Kelinkanda, Sri Lanka, 75 megawatts (101,000 hp)
- Sechelt Creek Generating Station, British Columbia, Canada, 16 megawatts (21,000 hp)
- Environmental concerns with electricity generation
- Environmental impacts of reservoirs
- Small hydro
- Micro hydro
- Pico hydro
- Gravitation water vortex power plant
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