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Environmental design of hydropower – renewable energy respecting nature

The concept of environmental design in hydropower rivers describes how to evaluate, develop and implement measures to improve the environmental conditions and different user interests in regulated rivers, while taking hydropower production into account

All renewable power production has an impact on nature. The question is how we can produce sufficient renewable energy without impacting the environment more than necessary. By adopting the right methods and tools for planning, implementation and monitoring, hydropower production can exist in harmony with nature instead of at its expense.

For example, environmental design can be used to ensure that rivers used for hydropower satisfy the needs for electricity and other public interests without destroying fish habitats.

We must create a society where it is possible to both produce renewable energy and conserve natural environments. This is where good environmental design comes in.”

Atle Harby, Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF and expert in environmental design

Environmental design of hydropower systems is a complex field that includes technology, hydrology, ecology, social sciences and economics. Together with NINA, NTNU and other partners, SINTEF has conducted research over multiple decades that has enabled us to build up the expertise necessary for working with environmental design in hydropower systems. The concept and many of the methods we have developed can also be adopted to other renewable energies , such as wind power, and to infrastructure projects such as power lines.  

Our typical projects include:

  • Major short- and long-term research projects investigating how to adapt and optimize power production in combination with solutions to preserve nature and maintain socieatal interests
  • Development of methods and models for power production, environmental design and mitigation measures
  • Contract projects related to site-specific environmental design solutions
  • International projects on mitigation measures for environmental impacts in hydropower rivers

We work with the following topics:

  • Power production, its environmental impacts and potential mitigation measures in regulated rivers
  • Modelling of rivers, lakes and reservoirs
  • Water engineering
  • Hydrology and catchment modelling
  • The environmental impact of more flexible operations of hydropower and mitigation measures
  • Solutions for fish migration
  • Optimisation of hydropower production
  • Hydropower’s balancing power and flexibility
  • Decision support tools for energy and environmental management
  • Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint from hydropower and reservoirs

Who do we do this for?

  • Norwegian and international hydropower producers
  • The Norwegian authorities
  • The Research Council of Norway and the EU


A lot of research has been conducted by the former research centre CEDREN (Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy), and some of this research will be continued at HydroCen (Norwegian Research Centre for Hydropower Technology). Both these centres are classified as Norwegian Centres for Environment-Friendly Research (FME). We also work with environmental design in many other projects. Here is a small selection:

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