#Meet the D-HYDROFLEX team: Katerina Drivakou from UBITECH ENERGY

Today, our blog hosts a short interview with Katerina Drivakou from UBITECH ENERGY, the Technical Coordinator of D-HYDROFLEX project.

Katerina, welcome. We are delighted to start the #meet the D-HYDROFLEX team blog series with you. UBITECH ENERGY is technically coordinating the Horizon D-HYDROFLEX project that was launched this September with the very aim to pave the way for sustainable and flexible hydropower, enabling a greener future.

But before saying more on the project, please tell us a few things for yourself to get to know you.

First of all, than you for the invitation. Well, as you said, I work as an Energy Systems Researcher at UBITECH ENERGY. I hold an integrated master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Patras with a major in Electric Power Systems and I am currently pursuing my MSc in Energy: Strategy, Law & Economics. I have worked on various research and innovation projects, focusing on topics such as flexibility markets, smart grids and energy efficiency, and within the D-HYDROFLEX project, I act as the technical coordinator.

Q: And now, let’s focus on the interesting things you are dealing with in the frame of D-HYDROFLEX project. What are the main challenges towards achieving Europe’s climate goals, to which D-HYDROFLEX aims to contribute?

A: First of all, there is an increasing need for investments and modernizing ageing hydropower plants, especially in Europe. Europe has considerably older fleets than other regions, such as Asia and the Middle East, with most of European HPPs being commissioned over 30 years ago. However, according to IRENA [1], if the climate goals are to be achieved by 2050, the necessary investments in hydropower have to be more than five times the investment in 2018 globally. Moreover, the ongoing transformation of the European power system makes system operators increasingly dependent on dispatchable electricity sources like hydropower for making their grids more flexible. For hydropower plants to have a relevant role in future energy systems, beyond base load generation, there should be a change not only in the way they are operated through digitalization, but also in the way they are perceived as power generation and storage units. Regarding the latter, the concept of HPP hybridization has been gaining attraction in recent years, with ongoing research activities on pairing hydropower with floating solar PV or with hydrogen storage. And of course, there is also one more dimension to be considered; the transformation of the hydropower sector should be carried out ensuring the HPPs’ sustainability over time and that local ecosystems are not impacted by it. For hydropower to act as a facilitator to the energy transition, a more flexible, efficient, and at the same time environmentally and socially acceptable approach to increasing hydropower production is required.

Q: What is the vision behind D-HYDROFLEX? What impact will the project pursues to have on the energy ecosystem?

A: D-HYDROFLEX vision is to pave the way for sustainable and flexible hydropower, facilitating the energy transition. It aims to support the digitalization of hydropower plants making them more efficient, more sustainable and more competitive in modern power markets by utilizing innovative sensors, digital twins, AI algorithms, hybridization modelling, cloud-edge computing and image processing. The developed solutions can increase the technology competitiveness of the existing European hydropower fleet and improve its environmental and socio-economic sustainability, thus facilitating higher level of market penetration of renewables. To realise such an ambitious impact, the project will demonstrate the developed solutions in 7 pilot sites across 5 EU countries (Poland, Romania, Spain, France, Greece) to ensure their replicability in different geographical areas and market set ups.

Q: In the frame of D-HYDROFLEX project, you are developing digital tools and innovative services to hydropower plant operators. What exactly do you wish to provide?

A: It is important for the power plant operators to optimize the management of the plants’ operation, while making its operation more cost-effective. D-HYDROFLEX objectives focus on developing solutions that enable (i) optimized operation planning, (ii) predictive maintenance and real-time monitoring, and (iii) increased market participation, while ensuring the cyber resilience of the developed tools.

To achieve its objectives, D-HYDROFLEX develops the Hydropower 4.0 toolkit for digitally ‘renovating’ existing hydroelectric power plants in the core of which lies the D-HYDROFLEX remote diagnostics and monitoring center. The remote M&D center will provide plant operators with remote, real-time insights into overall plant operations, sources of unplanned downtime and process inefficiencies, while supporting a wide range of monitoring and analysis features including energy production, H2 production and flow forecasting.

Q: The project is over its first half of a year. How do you see the work so far? A: The first months of the project were quite fruitful. We kick-started the work related to the toolkit conceptualization and the prototyping of tools for real-time plant management that was scheduled for that period of time. We also initiated the analysis of applicable European and national regulation frameworks to monitor relevant regulatory aspects that need to be taken into account related to the operational framework of D-HYDROFLEX Hydropower 4.0 toolkit, as well as a comparative analysis of the project’s hydropower plants characteristics and toolsets’ specifications, whereas relevant stakeholders have been engaged to provide their requirements.

Q: Would you like to share with us the next steps in the project?

A: So far, our work focused on analyzing the hydropower flexibility potential of the HPPs where the demonstration activities will be carried out and reviewing the existing regulatory framework and market conditions to identify the regulatory and commercial barriers that can hinder the participation of hydropower assets in flexibility markets. A significant milestone of the next period is to take benefit of the outcomes of all conducted surveys and analyses, related to the stakeholders involved and the demonstrators of the project, to define the use cases that will shape the D-HYDROFLEX research agenda and assure that all relevant technological, market and regulatory dimensions are incorporated in the D-HYDROFLEX Hydropower 4.0 toolkit reference architecture.

Katerina, thank you very much for this interview. It was a pleasure having you with us today.

[1] IRENA (2023), The changing role of hydropower: Challenges and opportunities, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi.

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