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Technology for underwriters

38 Hydroelectric power plants

1 Introduction

Water is not only one of the necessities of life but also currently Destruction of the environment and the relocation of residents
the most important source of renewable energy, accounting for from the areas being flooded also have to be taken into considera-
16.1% of global power generation. The advantages of water power tion and questioned critically whenever hydroelectric power plants
are constant availability, high efficiency and the ability to store are being built. Small hydroelectric power plants, on the other
energy. According to the IHA (International Hydropower Associa- hand, can certainly be realised in such a way that any environmen-
tion), each year around 3,000 TWh of electricity is generated world- tal impact turns out to be small and also meets stricter require-
wide by hydroelectric power plants with an installed capacity of ments like those resulting from the EU Water Framework Directive.
around 865 GW. Further hydroelectric power plants with an instal-
led capacity of around 120 GW are currently under construction.
The potential for expanding hydropower continues to be very high,
and new capacities of 300 GW to 400 GW are being planned. The
technical potential of hydropower corresponds to roughly 90% of
global power demand, but only around 30% of this is classed as

Hydroelectric power plants are considered to be carbon-free power

generation plants. However, particularly in the case of large plants,
the use of hydropower encroaches substantially on nature and the
landscape. Big reservoirs take up valuable areas of land, and the
flooding of large areas releases considerable quantities of biogas.
Very large amounts of water can also affect a region’s microclimate
and even its geology.
2 Hydroelectric power plants

Hydroelectric power plants are demanding construction projects,

particularly in terms of hydraulic engineering. The cost of a plant’s
turbines and electrical systems accounts for around 10–25% of the Head-
investment for the entire power plant. water
Powerhouse Transformer
A hydroelectric power plant is made up of the following
– Water-retaining structure: Dam, spillway, bottom outlet,
fish ladder, ship lock, intake structure with trash rack system Trash rack P
– Penstock with surge tank ensto
– Powerhouse: Main shut-off valve, spiral casing, Turbine Tailwater
water turbines with generators
– Electrical engineering: Control systems, transformers, Draft tube
transformer station
– Draft tube/diffuser for returning water to the river (tailwater)

A water-retaining structure is used to dam up water in the reser- Cross-section of a hydroelectric power plant.
voir at the highest potential level possible. Pressure pipes known
as “penstocks” lead the water into the spiral casing and to the
turbines. The water is then removed by a “draft tube” (suction
pipe) and the diffuser into the river or into the lower reservoir.
3 Types of water turbines Water turbines are divided into reaction and impulse turbines,
depending on the pressure characteristic at the runner.
Exploiting water power requires the use of a water turbine, which
converts potential and kinetic energy into mechanical work. If a
3.1 Reaction turbines
generator is fitted onto the turbine shaft, the mechanical work can
also be converted directly into electric current. The power P (W) of
The pressure of the water is highest at the inlet and falls steadily
a water turbine is calculated from the product of the acceleration
all the way to the outlet, with the potential and kinetic energy
of gravity g (9.81 m/sec2), the density of water  (kg/m3), the head
being transmitted to the runner.
of water h (m), the flow through the turbine Q (m3/sec) and the tur-
bine efficiency  (%):
The Francis turbine was developed in the USA in 1849 by the en-
= ··g·h·Q gineer James B. Francis. It is still the most common type of turbine
in hydroelectric power plants, being used primarily for medium
It is clear from this formula that a high head can compensate for a
heads of water and flow rates. But Francis turbines can also be
low flow rate and vice versa. This means that the relatively small
designed for very high capacities, among them the biggest water
water volume of a mountain torrent, which can nevertheless have
turbines in the world, with an installed capacity per unit of 700 MW
a head of several hundred metres, may possibly generate more
(Itaipú in Brazil and Three Gorges in China).
electricity than the large water volume stream of a river where the
head is just the height difference of a weir. In order to achieve
optimum efficiency, the turbine should be matched to the different
heads of water and flow rates. In other words, a high head power
plant in the Alps needs a different turbine from a run-of-river
power plant on the Danube.
With the Francis turbine, water is directed by fixed “stay ring The Francis turbine
vanes” and adjustable guide vanes onto the blades of the runner,
which are curved in the opposite direction. The pressure at the
runner inlet is higher than at the runner outlet. The water enters the
turbine through a spiral casing which enables uniform flow around
Turbine shaft
the perimeter of the runner. The guide vanes are adjustable to Thrust bearing
control the flow of water, which in turn controls the turbine’s
output. The water passes the draft tube and exits into the tailwater.
Radial bearing Stay vanes
The Francis turbine has the advantage that it can also be used as
a pump. When using the generator as a motor, the Francis turbine Guide vanes
becomes a pump-turbine, which can be operated as a pump or as a
turbine. Such a combination is used in pumped-storage power

Francis turbine:
runner with turbine
rotor blades. Spiral
casing Runner with
turbine rotor blades

Draft tube
Pumped-storage power plants (PSPPs) store potential energy in
the form of water pumped from a lower elevation to a higher-
elevation reservoir. As they can supply electric power with very
little delay (turbine operation) and also quickly absorb excess
generation capacity from the grid (pump operation), this so-called
“regulating energy” (or “load balancing”) is used both to cushion
peak demand and to balance out sudden falls in consumption.
Pumped-storage power plants are therefore ideal for regulating
the grid and are extremely valuable in optimising energy genera-

The Kaplan turbine is a water turbine with adjustable runner blades.

The axial machine was developed from the Francis turbine in 1913
by the Austrian professor Viktor Kaplan. The runner is like a ship’s
propeller, but with adjustable blades. The water passages to the
turbine have the same arrangement (spiral case, stay and guide
vanes) as in the Francis turbine. However, the water flows axially
through the turbine (parallel to the shaft). From the runner inlet,
the water pressure falls steadily all the way to the outlet, with the
water leaving the turbine through the draft tube.
Pumped-storage power plant.

Reservoirs Pump
Penstock Transformer
Generator Francis turbine
The Kaplan turbine is mostly installed vertically, so that the water The Kaplan turbine
flows through it from top to bottom. The fact that the runner blades
are also adjustable allows high efficiencies (over 85 %) to be
achieved at a wide range of discharge (controlled by the guide
vanes). This turbine is particularly suitable for run-of-river power
Turbine shaft
plants on slow-flowing rivers, as from the point of view of hydro-
dynamic it is designed for low water pressure (i.e. low heads) and
larger flow rates. Generator

The bulb turbine, which was developed from the Kaplan turbine,
Radial bearing Thrust
is installed horizontally, does not need a spiral case and has a
straight draft tube, thereby saving space. Its generator is situated bearing
in a watertight housing on the extended end of the turbine shaft.
These bulb turbines were further developed into so-called Guide vanes
“Straflo” (from “straight flow”) turbines.
3.2 Impulse turbines Runner with
With these turbines, the water pressure remains constant as the blades
water flows through the runner blades. Only kinetic energy is
transmitted to the turbine. Draft tube
The Pelton turbine is a free-jet turbine. It was designed by the
American engineer Lester Pelton and patented in the USA in 1880.

With the Pelton turbine, the water flows in a very-high-velocity jet

from one or more nozzles onto the buckets of the runner. Before
leaving the nozzle, the pressure is high (up to 200 bar), whereas
the jet itself is at normal atmospheric pressure. When exiting the
nozzle, the potential energy is converted entirely into kinetic
energy, though on the runner itself the pressure does not alter.
Each of the up to 40 turbine buckets is divided into two ellipsoidal
bowls. The water jets from the nozzles hit the centre splitter in the
middle of the buckets. The energy is consequently transmitted
through impulse exchange to the buckets, which take the water in
the opposite direction, causing the kinetic energy to be released to Runner of the Pelton turbine. Close-up of the buckets.
the runner. From the point of view of flow engineering, the central
edge of the buckets is the absolutely critical point and is almost
razor sharp at commissioning. Without a well-designed central
edge, the buckets would quickly be destroyed by the water pres-
sure. 8,000 litres per second. The turbine works at a very high speed of
up to 3,000 revolutions per minute and achieves an efficiency of
With a head of 1,000 metres, the water jet can reach a speed of 85–90%. Even when it is not operating under full load, it still
almost 140 m/s. The highest impact velocity measured so far is achieves good efficiency. The operating limits of Pelton turbines
185 m/s. Depending on the type of construction and the head, the currently stand at 423 MW (Grande Dixence dam, Bieudron hydro-
amount of water required by a Pelton turbine lies between 20 and electric plant, Switzerland).
The Pelton turbine Pelton turbines are used primarily in hydro-storage plants in high
mountain areas with very high heads and comparatively low flow
rates. Their greatest drawback is the runner’s proneness to ero-
sion, especially where the mountain water has a high proportion
of alluvial particles, e.g. sand.

4 Current state of the science and trends

All new developments in the area of water turbines became

possible only with the use of CFD (computational fluid dynamics)
simulations and sophisticated computational programs. Simulations
have to be used both for the modernisation of existing hydroelec-
tric power plants and the development of new turbine designs.
CFD simulations are usually considerably more straightforward
than model tests, which means that hydraulic designs can be
developed and implemented more quickly, with higher quality and
at less cost. In recent years, a great number of Francis turbine run-
ners have thus been developed only on screen and manufactured
directly and without further model tests. CFD also allows feasibility
studies to be carried out on the modernisation of existing plants.
Runner with buckets
Nozzles and main seal
Particularly in Central Europe, where hardly any new hydroelectric Range of application of water turbines
power plants are currently being approved, the rehabilitation of
old plants with the latest equipment is becoming increasingly Head H (m)
important. It guarantees a longer service life for the plants and 2,000
the exploitation of existing potentials for power generation. 1,400 Ou
1,000 tp
700 P
500 (M
300 )
5 Insurance aspects of erection all risks insurance 200
The construction of a hydroelectric power plant often requires long 50
policy terms of up to ten years. In this time, the emerging plant is 30
exposed to a multitude of risks. 14
Loss potentials 5
Natural hazards: Damage from flooding, fires and explosions.
Assembly of turbogenerator sets: Powerhouses are often long and 0.05 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.5 1 2 3 5 10 20 30 50 100 200 300 500 1,000
narrow in design, with several turbogenerator sets arranged one Flow rate Q (m3/s)
behind the other. During assembly, heavy parts for the turbines
that are being assembled are transported by the powerhouse Pelton Multi-stage Straflo Compact Pelton
crane over the units that have already been completed, involving Kaplan pump-turbines Crossflow Compact bulb
considerable risk of damage. Bulb Francis and machines S/Tubular
single-stage Pit Compact Francis
Faulty trial operation: Trial operation, when the interaction of all 6 Insurance aspects of machinery and business insurance
the plant parts is tested for the first time, also harbours further
high potential for damage. Some operators require the runaway Hydroelectric power plants have an expected operating life of up to
speed to be tested during trial operation. This test constitutes a 50 years, but this can nevertheless be affected by various loss poten-
particularly high risk, as it may lead to the total loss of a turbine. tials. In practice, the most frequent losses are those due to faulty
design and erection (40%) and then due to faulty maintenance,
Machinery and plant in underground caverns: Besides the risk of followed by operating errors (31%).
flooding and the high risk of fire, machines in underground
caverns are exposed to the risk of transformer explosions. All loss Loss potential
prevention measures and fire-extinguishing systems must there- Machinery breakdown: The long-term stress and subsequent
fore already be fully operational during the test run. increased material fatigue caused by dynamic forces means that
there is a high risk of machinery breakdown.
Covering the manufacturer’s risk is a tightrope walk between tech-
nology that is inherently sound and single-unit production, where Damage to bearings: On larger turbogenerators, strong radial forces
quality failures due to various causes (e.g. outsourcing) are pos- act on the bearings. Often, even during construction, not enough
sible. Every quotation must be produced carefully and individually, attention is paid to the precise alignment of the rotor/stator. Statis-
according to the project, and the specialist underwriter should have tically, bearing failures cause around 40% of operating losses. The
a wide-ranging knowledge of hydraulic and plant engineering. pressure, temperature and vibrations in bearings should therefore
be monitored continuously, using measurement instrumentation. It
Recommended policies is vital to have a functioning spare oil pump available for each unit.
For insuring the construction of hydroelectric power plants, CAR This must start automatically if there is any drop in pressure.
and EAR policy wordings and also modern CPI (comprehensive
project insurance) policies are recommended. Faulty closing mechanism: If the water passage into the turbine is
opened or closed too quickly because of a fault in the process con-
trol technology, water hammer could result in very strong dynamic
pressure on the penstocks.
Vibrations: Cavitation (continuous collapsing of bubbles producing Recommended policy
shock waves) or swirl can cause strong vibrations during partial- The policy recommended is Munich Re’s CMI (comprehensive machin-
load operation. “Swirl” is the name given to the formation of ery insurance) policy, which also covers business interruption.
vapour bubbles that spreads from the turbine’s runner in the direc-
tion of flow. The rotation of the turbine runner causes the swirl to
move irregularly back and forth, hitting the draft tube wall and 7 Business interruption
possibly triggering strong vibrations. Underwriters should there-
fore ensure that there is a cavitation erosion exclusion. Hydroelectric power plants often have large installed capacities of
up to 600 MW and, in exceptional cases, even higher. For business
Serial losses: Where a hydroelectric power plant contains a large interruption, it should be noted that the plants are often custom-
number of machines of identical construction, particular attention built (adapted to the water volume and head), far away from settle-
must be paid to the potential for serial losses, especially if busi- ments, and therefore difficult to reach. Operating profit accounts for
ness interruption is also to be insured. The same manufacturing the biggest share of the sum insured, as overheads are relatively
defect on oil pumps of identical construction could, for example, low.
cause the entire power plant to fail.
BI loss potential
The risk quality of a hydroelectric power plant depends primarily Plant failure: Where a unit fails, major loss of production and finan-
on its maintenance and upkeep. Fire and flood protection should cial loss can soon arise. A longer time excess is recommended to
also be routinely assessed on the basis of adequate information. avoid payment of smaller losses.
Inspection reports providing information on the claims experience
in recent years and, if possible, containing a maintenance schedule In the case of major losses, PMLs of 100% are to be expected, as the
and listing machinery and other plant components by age should supply and assembly times for some components are very long.
also be available. It is also vital to check the fire safety of under- Consequently, business interruption cover should not be effected
ground transformer rooms. without an inspection report containing a list of all the spare parts
and repair facilities.
Published to date 20 Steel plants, Part 2: Steel processing © 2009
21 Hot work Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft
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part 2 32 Dam construction, Part 2: Embankment
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19 Steel plants, Part 1: Steel production
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