The largest gathering of water and energy experts ever to meet in Lao PDR, and the largest of Aqua-Media’s regional events to date, took place in Vientiane from 1 to 3 March. ASIA 2016, the Sixth International Conference on Water Resources and Hydropower Development, was officially opened on 1 March by His Excellency Dr Khammany Inthirath, Minister of Energy and Mines of Lao PDR.
A total of 825 delegates from 47 nations took part, an increase of nearly 30 per cent compared with ASIA 2010 in Sarawak, which had previously been the best attended conference in this series. The high level of participation reflected the interest of the international water resources community in the impressive hydro development programme of Lao PDR, the investment opportunities in the host country and in other South East Asian nations, and the practical and topical issues covered by the three-day programme and pre-conference training workshops.
High on the agenda were issues such as: structuring projects and managing hydropower contracts; project finance, legal aspects, concession agreements and risk management; transboundary issues; assessing and dealing with environmental impacts; climate resilience; dam and powerplant safety; and, innovations in technology for large and small hydro plants and for dams.
Aqua-Media Director Alison Bartle welcomed participants, and set the scene for ASIA 2016 by outlining the history and mission of the series of regional Asian events, including their growth in attendance and scope since 2006. She drew attention to some of the major achievements of Asian nations over the past 10 years in the field of water infrastructure and hydropower, giving some examples of major multipurpose schemes in China, India, Pakistan and Turkey, which had played a key role in regional socio-economic development. She also mentioned the challenges faced by many Asian countries, in particular their vulnerability to natural disasters, especially earthquakes and flooding. According to a UNESCAP report, she said, more than half of the world’s 226 natural disasters in 2014 had been in the Asia Pacific region; river basin floods during that year alone had incurred economic losses of about US$ 16 billion. This underlined the need to bring together international experts to exchange experience on climate resilience, flood mitigation and management, and the safety of water infrastructure, she felt.
In previewing the programme, Bartle drew attention to the major input to ASIA 2016 from the financial community (including the World Bank, IFC, and private sector companies such as Allen & Overy, King & Spalding, and others), as well as experts on insurance and legal/contractual aspects. She also highlighted the major focus on environmental and social aspects, and on transboundary issues.
She welcomed delegations joining for the first time, for example, those from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Welcome by the Lao Minister of Energy & Mines
H.E. Khammany Inthirath, in his address to the Opening Plenary Session, welcomed the international delegates on behalf of the Lao people, and expressed his gratitude that so many international experts had gathered in Laos from so many countries, “all speaking the same language: hydropower”. He felt the conference was timely in view of the present rapid development of hydropower in his country, and the corresponding opportunities for investment. The Minister recalled that by 1995, only 200 MW of capacity had been development, but by 2020, a total of 10 000 MW of hydropower would be commissioned, more than 90 per cent by the private sector. A further 10 000 MW was planned for implementation between 2020 and 2030, he said, representing a rate of development of 1000 MW/year.
In underlining his Government’s strong commitment to developing the country’s hydro potential, Minister Khammany noted that Lao PDR was proud of its rapid economic growth resulting from this policy, as well as its expanding role in helping the South East Asian region to meet its urgent demand for more energy.
“Worldwide economic uncertainty has created volatility in the energy markets”, he continued, “and to cope with this and reduce dependence on oil imports, we must promote energy efficiency and conservation, and develop our renewable energy resources”.
He underlined the value of the conference in strengthening bonds of friendship and cooperation, and providing an opportunity to share knowledge and insights in the field of water resources and hydropower development. Concluding his speech, Minister Khammany declared ASIA 2016 officially open.
Keynote by Lord David Puttnam
ASIA 2016 was honoured by the presence of Lord David Puttnam, the UK Prime Minister’s personal Trade Envoy for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Known to many for his 30 year career as a world-renowned film maker, and also as former President of UNICEF, Lord Puttnam began his keynote speech modestly by claiming to know less than anyone in the room about the specific details of hydropower. But he then focused immediately on the most fundamental issues for the profession: the importance of balancing environmental concerns with development needs, the need for dialogue among stakeholders and between nations, the importance of avoiding conflict, and the urgency of addressing concerns associated with climate change.
Lord Puttnam recalled his first official visit to Lao PDR for a meeting with the Deputy Foreign Secretary, who had described his notion of real development as: “a country which, for every tree it cuts down, plants two more; a nation which as it develops, becomes a happier rather than a sadder one; a more generous nation, rather than a greedier one”. He commented that this had been one of the most impressive meetings he had had, anywhere in the world.
One of the key messages of Lord Puttnam’s was to urge Asian nations, as they became more and more reliant on hydropower, to avoid situations of potential conflict between communities or nations, and to ensure that actions are not taken which could accidentally cause adverse impacts to others. He commended the example set by Lao PDR, which was demonstrating enormous sensitivity in developing its hydro resources for its people, with a real consideration for sustainability, and for the future.
Dr Naruepon Sukumasavan, Director of Planning at the Mekong River Commission, in outlining the mission and activities of his organization, addressed some of the concerns which had been outlined by Lord Puttnam, when he spoke of MRC’s recognition of the challenges not only of keeping member countries informed about new planned hydro schemes, but of advancing, and clarifying approaches, to South-South collaboration among the Mekong basin countries. The cumulative impact of multiple schemes had become an increasingly important topic, and there was a well recognized need to improve the sustainability of new hydropower developments. The new Mekong Basin Development Strategy, he said, combined awareness raising, multi-stakeholder dialogue and capacity building in regional planning approaches.
The ultimate goal, he said, was to promote cooperation among the member countries for sustainable development, and this involved developing a unified strategy for environmental and social responsibility alongside development, taking care of both upstream and downstream interests. “In this way”, he concluded, “potential sources of conflict can be turned into tools for regional collaboration”.
Prof Anton Schleiss, President of ICOLD, gave an opening address in which he reviewed the role and development of water infrastructure, including future prospects. He reflected that water had been a vital element for mankind for more than 2000 years, for water supply, irrigation, hydropower and navigation, but it had also represented a destructive force, requiring protective measures agains floods and erosion, and measures such as sewage treatment and drainage. Water infrastructure had, for more than 1000 years, played a vital role in socio-economic development, he continued, and today there were more than 58 000 dams in the world. During this century, Schleiss felt, there would probably be a need for up to 60 000 more, with large reservoirs, to meet the needs of humanity. He added that the world economic situation did not seem to influence dam construction, as the rate of construction of large (> 60 m) dams had remained fairly constant since 2000, at 350-400/year.
Underlining the value of multipurpose water infrastructure, Schleiss pointed out that 72 per cent of global water withdrawals were for irrigation, and that 40 per cent of world food production was based on irrigated land. Stressing the need for more storage schemes, Schleiss drew attention to the fact that two-thirds of the world population still lack a safe water supply, and around 1 billion people are threatened by famine.
Major challenges, he concluded, were the huge long-term investments required for major schemes, particularly when projects were located at some distance from the main consumer centres. Environmental impacts continued to be of concern, but could be mitigated if socio-economic impacts were considered from the very beginning of feasibility studies.
Transboundary water management
Prof Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, began his talk by recalling an inspirational discussion he had had with Indira Ghandi, whom he described as one of his early mentors. She had encouraged him to regard water not as an issue to debate per se, but as a means to an end. She had pointed out that rather than discussing water, the frame of the discussion should be how to use water as an engine for economic development or how to exploit water resources for poverty alleviation. Biswas went on to say that the two big issues today, clearly interconnected, were undoubtedly the use of water for power, and for food security.
On the issue of transboundary water management, Biswas pointed out that about half of the world’s land mass was covered by transboundary river, and that there were 317 such rivers in the world. “When we talk about transboundary water management”, he said, “most of the discussions relate to water allocation, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America”. A theory promulgated by some water professionals, and encouraged by the general media, was that water scarcity could be the basis of a future war between nations. “My thesis is that this is nonsense”, Biswas said. On the contrary, he pointed out, water had promoted harmony between nations, and he took as one example the case of India and Bhutan, which had agreed to develop water resources jointly. He pointed out that Bhutan’s per capita GDP was by far the largest in Asia, and this level was set to be maintained over the next 10-15 years. The cooperation between those two countries had revolutionized their economic scene, Biswas said, improving the lives of the people, and alleviating poverty.
“The construction of dams and hydro plants, exciting as this must be, has the ultimate aim of improving the quality of life of people.”
He concluded that the profession had not been successful in the past in convincing politicials and decision makers of this, and he felt that this was because water was not always discussed in the context of development, and associated economic benefits.
IEA: Upgrading hydropower plants
While much of the ASIA 2016 discussions focused on the potential for new developments, the first speaker in the second part of the plenary session drew attention to the importance of maintaining, renewing and upgrading existing hydropower assets. Takashi Akiyama, the Operating Agent for the International Energy Agency’s Annex on this topic, presented the Final Report of his Annex. He noted the growing concerns in industrialized nations about ageing hydropower facilities, coupled with the growing expectations for hydropower as a future key player in a low-carbon society.
The work of the IEA Annex, he said, had involved gathering good case histories from around the world on the renewal and upgrading of hydro plants; the information was to be used to identify and convey effective policies, and to promote support measures and innovative technologies to nations around the world.
Akiyama gave details of the typical triggers which led to the need for upgrading, and then summarized the conclusions of the research in terms of public policies and management strategies, and also technologies and innovative systems which had been applied.
In the final part of the plenary session, various invited speakers from countries at different stages of hydropower and water resources development presented short national overviews of current activities and future priorities in their country.
Dr Zheng Cuiying, of IWHR and CHINCOLD, China, gave a presentation in which she outlined China’s achievements (a total of 98 000 dams in operation, as well as 22 000 medium and large hydro plants, and more than 24 000 mini hydro plants), explaining that construction had accelerated during the 1990s to meet the country’s requirements for flood control, irrigation, water supply and power generation. She noted that between 2004 and 2014, China’s hydro capacity had increased from 100 to 300 GW. By 2015, hydro generation had reached 1100 TWh/year. She gave details of some of the country’s most outstanding dams of various types, as well as hydro and pumped-storage installations, and stressed that the relatively low price and stable supply of hydropower had played a major role in supporting the growth of China’s economy. By 2030, China planned to produce 20 per cent of its energy from non-fossil fuels. By then hydropower capacity would reach 450 GW, and pumped-storage capacity would be 120 GW, Zheng said. She referred to more than 55 major hydro schemes to be constructed, mainly on the large rivers in the west of the country. Despite China’s impressive achievements and targets, Zheng concluded: “We will have a long way to go forward, and we want to learn from international experiences. We welcome professionals from all over the world to join our efforts”.
Managing Director of India’s Council of Power Utilities, Tanushree Sharma, gave delegates an update on hydropower developments in India. She said that while more than half of India’s electricity demand was currently met by thermal power, the role of hydro in the fuel mix (currently 17 per cent) was set to increase, with a current major thrust on renewable energy. Present hydro capacity in the country, she continued, was 42.6 GW, and in 2015, 1396 MW of hydro had been commissioned. At present more than 9000 MW of hydro capacity was at the survey and investigation stage, Sharma said. She then moved on to India’s increasing cross-border collaboration with both Bhutan and Nepal, referring to the major completed and on-going projects involving both countries Bhutan and Nepal, as well other major schemes in the pipeline. She reported that during a recent visit to India, Bhutan’s Prime Minister had described his country’s relationship with India as a ‘model relationship between neighbours’. At a recent meeting between the Prime Ministers of Nepal and India, the two sides had proposed to build six power corridors between the two countries, and to facilitate the generation of 7000 MW. In conclusion Sharma reported that the Indian Government aims to generate 175 GW of power from renewables by 2022, of which at least 62 GW would be from hydropower.
Radesh Pant, CEO of the Investment Board of Nepal (IBN), outlined the political and economic transformation of his country, explaining that IBN had been created by the Government in 2011 with a view to fast-tracking investment in physical infrastructure to facilitate accelerated growth of the economy, and to “establish new ways of doing business”. He said that energy demand from Nepal’s hydropower resources had “never been better”, adding that all macro indicators pointed to a very healthy future for the industry. To meet domestic demand, by 2030 the country would need to commission around 6000 MW, Pant said, requiring an investment of some US$10 billion. An additional US$ 6.5 billion would need to be invested in downstream infrastructure for transmission and distribution. He continued that in the long term, prospects were good for power trading with India, with the Indian power market expected to triple by 2031.
Pant said that the technically and economically feasible hydro potential of his country had been estimated at around 43 GW, but he felt that when taking into account the export market, the figure could be twice as high. Among the most positive developments in the Nepalese power sector, Pant said, were:
- the signing of concession agreements on two 900 MW hydro schemes which had been stalled for some time (Upper Karnali and Arun 3), which would allow these projects to reach financial closure;
- the power trade agreement with India, which would facilitate the interconnection of the Indian and Nepalese grids; and,
- the SAARC Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation, which should pave the way for the eventual formation of a regional energy market.
U Hein Htet, Deputy Director General of DEPP at Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power, gave an overview of hydro development in his country; he said hydro resources were estimated at around 100 GW. Hydro capacity, at 3181 MW, was currently supplying 64.4 per cent of the total 4941 MW. While gas-fired plants would be dominant in the country’s short-term plans, hydro featured prominently in longer term planning. Five projects totalling 1495 MW were under implementation, a further 42 schemes totalling 39 458 MW were under processing for the future. Eventually as much as 46 154 MW of hydro could be developed at a total of 78 schemes. Htet said there was a trend towards public-private partnerships, and a major focus on sustainable and responsible development, including public consultations. Capacity building, training and motivation of staff were also key priorities. In conclusion Htet spoke of his government’s recognition of the benefits of hydro in reducing CO2 emissions, and assisting economic development, at local, regional and national levels.
Datuk Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, Group CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad, Malaysia, gave an update on the SCORE initiative (Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy). The possible SCORE scenario up to 2035 could include a further nine hydro schemes totalling more than 4000 MW of capacity, to add to the 93 MW Batang Ai and 2400 MW Bakun schemes already in operation, and Murum (944 MW) now under commisisoning.
Referring to the improved living standards which Sarawak’s hydro schemes had been bringing to the local people, Datuk Torstein took the example of the recently completed Murum scheme, and described the improved housing and amenities, and increases in job opportunities which the project had provided. As well as employment opportunities on the project, there had been sustainable livelihood development programmes, including cottage industries such as handicrafts for the local people.
One of the next schemes to go ahead would be Baleh, with 1285 MW of installed capacity, and firm power of 912 MW. This project has a target completion date of 2024. Another scheme likely to go ahead soon is Baram (1180 MW).
In conclusion, Datuk Torstein said that Sarawak Energy’s regional vision for 2025 was to become “a powerhouse in ASEAN”, with power exchanges envisaged with Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Sumatra (Indonesia) to the west; West Kalimantan (Indonesia) to the south; and Brunei and Sabah to the north.
Kubanychbek Turdubaev, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, desribed the role of hydropower in his country, where seven hydro plants were in operation, providing 82 per cent of the total capacity of 3746 MW, and 90 per cent of annual generation of 15 TWh/year. The total hydropower potential of the country, Turdubaev said, was estimated at 142 TWh/year. He added that there was considerable potential to export electricity to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Natural conditions were challenging for constructing and operating hydro schemes, he continued, including mountainous terrain, extreme climatic conditions.
Turdubaev reported that his government was seeking to create appropriate conditions for private sector investors in small hydro schemes, and a number of large schemes were also planned, including the Upper Naryn cascade of four projects (237 MW), Kambarata 1 (1860 MW), and the upgrading of Uch-Kurgan, from 180 to 216 MW.
Papua New Guinea
Sev Maso, Advisor to the Government of Papua New Guinea, spoke from the perspective of a country with considerable hydro potential, and a substantial development programme ahead. He said that accelerated growth in the national economy had put much stress on electricity supplies in the main cities, and hydropower would have an important role to play in the future energy mix. Hydro potential had been estimated at more than 15 000 MW, of which only around 220 MW had been harnessed. Existing hydro projects had been on a small scale, he added, and no significant development had taken place for some 25 years.
Two projects currently being prepared for the procurement process were Naoro Brown (80 MW) and Ramu 2 (140 MW), Maso said. Two much larger schemes for the longer term were the 1800 MW Karamui scheme on the Tua river, now being prepared for investment, and, the 2500 MW Purari scheme, on the river of the same name, for which a detailed feasibility study had been completed.
Maso concluded that his country, with enormous untapped hydro potential, was strategically placed for the South East Asian market. There was a need, he felt, to develop a framework for a benefit sharing regime in the region, and also for capacity building. In particular, in PNG, there was a need to understand how to manage technical, financial and political risks.
Pre-Conference training seminars
The three-day ASIA 2016 conference and exhibition was preceded by three well attended side events. The World Bank, together with FIDIC and some international specialists on hydropower contracts, organized a two day training seminar on contracts management, which was attended by high level delegations from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Lao PDR and others. The aim was to improve understanding of good practice in international contracts management, and in particular the practice use of the FIDIC Conditions of Contract, increasingly used in the hydro industry.
A one-day training course on small hydropower, sponsored by the British Hydropower Association and Gilkes, and led by the former CEO of BHA, Prof David Williams, and Prof Gordon Black of BabyHydro, UK, led groups of participants through the stages of developing a small hydro scheme. Based on data from a real project site, and working in groups of eight, participants worked through the necessary calculations to design their own schemes, within one day. Results were presented and discussed in the concluding session.
Cumulative impact assessment
Another one-day training seminar focused on the assessment cumulative environmental and social impact, resulting from multiple projects and activities in the same watershed. Specialists in this field from the International Finance Corporation working in the hydro sector helped participants to identify types of cumulative impacts of hydro schemes, and to assess the associated risks.
Two post-Conference study tours were organized, which took delegates to visit either the 1285 MW Xayaburi run-of-river scheme, under construction in northwestern Laos near Luang Prabang, or the Nam Ngiep 1 and Nam Ngum 1 schemes northeast of Vientiane. NN1 has an RCC dam under construction which will be the highest in the country, at 148 m. Nam Ngum 1 was originally commissioned in 1971, and was recently uprated.