Hydropower currently generates more energy than all other renewables combined and is expected to remain the world’s largest source of renewable electricity into the 2030s. And pumping water uphill, aka pumped storage hydro, accounts for 90% of energy storage capacity.
However, in Europe, investment and general interest in hydropower pales in comparison to wind and solar. This is partly because most suitable locations for power-generating dams have already been utilised, and building new dams is increasingly controversial due to their high environmental impact. For these reasons, hydropower is often referred to as the “forgotten giant” of renewable energy.
Yet, there is still untapped potential in unlocking efficiencies from dams that are already producing power. Or working with new, smaller-scale hydro projects that don’t have such a negative impact. Hydrogrid, a startup out of Austria, is doing both.
“Despite the important role hydropower has to play as a green battery to the grid, hydro is often viewed as the forgotten giant of the energy transition,” says CEO Janice Goodenough. “This is because a significant part of its potential is currently underutilised due to a lack of digitalisation or due to complex regulation. And that’s what we aim to change.”
The young company has developed an IoT-enabled platform that helps hydroelectricity plants run more efficiently, and save cash in the process. The key component of its technology stack is an algorithm fed with live data from the plant that informs managers of the best time to sell electricity to the grid. The platform also enables hydropower operators to quickly react to weather events and minimise water losses. Hydrogrid claims it can boost a plant’s power generation by 10% and revenues by up to 50%.
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Fresh round of funds for market expansion
The Ytre Alsåker power plant near Bergen is one of over 200 operated by Småkraft across Norway and Sweden. This small facility produces enough electricity to power 1,200 homes and also generates revenue for local landowners. Hydrogrid recently secured a contract to digitise plants like this on behalf of Småkraft. Image credit: Småkraft AS
In October, Hydrogrid secured a contract with Swiss energy utility EWN to digitise all eight of its hydropower plants. More than 60% of the electricity consumed in the alpine country comes from hydropower.
Further north, Hydrogrid has teamed up with Norwegian company Småkraft, which specialises in building smaller hydro plants that offer local farmers a way to make passive income from the rivers on their land. Under the partnership, a total of 16 facilities in Norway and Sweden will undergo a digital makeover.
While investment in the hydro space has been more of a trickle than a flood of late, Hydrogrid today announced that it has secured a sizable $8.5mn (€7.8mn) in Series A funding. The startup wants to use the fresh funds to expand into new markets (it already operates in seven).
Michal Mravec, investment director at Inven Capital, one of the lead investors, said he believes Hydrogrid’s ability to “proactively manage inflow forecasting, water management and environmental regulation” and then combine it with optimal power trading, “adds tremendous value to hydropower owners”.
Inven Capital is a €500mn European VC fund focused on later-stage climate tech investments in Europe, and is backed by CEZ Group and the European Investment Bank (EIB).