Environmental design

Environmental design is one of four research areas in HydroCen.

Water resources are important for several socio-economic benefits in addition to production of climate-neutral energy. This comprises flood protection and control, security of supply and balancing services etc. In addition, essential ecosystem services such as irrigation, drinking water, biodiversity and recreation[48] are stakeholders in water management- and usage.  Implementation of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), new national legislations and new regulatory requirements exert pressure on the hydropower industry by establishing targets for environmental conditions in regulated rivers, potentially at the cost of energy production along with other beneficial effects from water regulation[8]. While hydropower is generally accepted as a resource efficient source for renewable energy, there has also been substantial societal opposition to hydropower developments. These drivers and pressures calls for knowledge-based solutions that optimises the trade-offs between hydropower production and other socioeconomic benefits vs local environmental conditions and accommodating societal concerns.

A range of legal and political objectives and guidelines operate at international, national and local levels of decision-making to reconcile multiple water uses and needs. The specific implementation depends on legal assessments and execution of political priorities, which ultimately require trade-offs between conflicting interests. The interplay between European institutions (i.e. EU, ESA) and Norwegian authorities at national and regional level provides new objectives to practical political governance. The SusWater project (2015-2018) addresses challenges for multi-level water governance and hydropower production. HydroCen will build on SusWater, and study merging impacts in Norway of the interplay between European decision-makers, key stakeholders from the industry, NGO’s and locals that will form water governance for coming decades.

While solutions for upstream migration of salmonid fishes are well developed, downstream migration and measures to prevent fatal turbine passage remains a major challenge. Based on results of the SafePass project (2015-2019) and the H-rack prototype the focus in HydroCen will be on developing combined fish and trash racks and cleaning systems that minimise head losses while hindering turbine entrainment during downstream migration.

Environmental effects of hydropower developments can be compensated, mitigated or addressed by more sophisticated environmental design solutions that explicitly address the trade-offs between hydropower and local environmental impacts. In HydroCen, we aim at expanding the “environmental design in regulated salmon rivers” concept by including other ecosystem components and user interests in the pursuit of optimal solutions for the environment, society pros & cons and hydropower value creation. The environmental design concept involves both habitat restoration measures and environmental flow releases in rivers. Loss of habitat, habitat degradation and fragmentation are regarded major threats to biodiversity worldwide. Consequently, habitat compensation and restoration has become an important part of sustainable industry developments. Various methods for setting environmental flows have been developed, aiming at maintaining some natural flow variability that sustains the main ecological functions in a riverine ecosystem. Such methods are based on hydrological analyses, flow-ecology relationships, hydrological and habitat-hydraulic modelling and statistical techniques. Not much work has focused on the combination of environmental models and economic impact although there is a strong relation to both short- and long-term hydropower operation as indicated in Guisández et al. . However, frameworks applying these methods (e.g. ELOHA) have shown to be difficult to implement for protection of large parts of the world's river networks. Hence, there is a need for simplified, applicable frameworks balancing knowledge, applicability and costs of methods.

Main objective: To develop knowledge and innovative technology to mitigate environmental impacts from hydropower operations.


  • Assess and compare governance schemes and public involvement concerning environmental design innovations

  • Develop cost-effective solutions for downstream migrating fish

  • Expansion of the “environmental design in regulated salmon rivers” concept to new ecosystem components and multiple services and user interests


  • T 4.1 Governance and social acceptance
  • T 4.2 Ecological connectivity for fish in regulated rivers
  • T 4.3 Environmental design for multiple interests under future flexible hydropower operation


Torbjørn Forseth

Senior Research Scientist

E-mail: torbjorn.forseth@nina.no

Tel.: +47 926 43 437