As populations grow and regulations tighten, owners and operators of utilities feel the pressure and work to keep pace. When it comes to updating their plants and facilities to meet new standards, a total overhaul can be intimidating. Space and budget concerns create significant challenges. With all the factors and obstacles that can stand in the way of major upgrades, retrofitting and rehabilitation are quickly becoming the preferred methods for facility modernization.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. hydroelectric plant has been operating for over 64 years. While this stat confirms that these plants have staying power, it also makes you wonder how the infrastructure may be aging. With a stat like that, it is likely that there are many hydroelectric plants today that are using antiquated control systems, leaving them at a greater risk for operation interruptions without the benefit of modern technology and network infrastructures.   

Hydroelectric facilities are vital and provide reliable power for the communities they serve. But many of these facilities are starting to face the inevitable wear and tear that comes with many decades of use. Because completely rebuilding a facility isn’t always the best option, modernization upgrades and retrofits can help plant owners expand the capacity and life spans of existing hydropower facilities.

For plants that are due for an upgrade, one major aspect that should be considered for a retrofit is the facility’s control system. An outdated control system affects the ability of owners to analyze and act on data that is critical to plant operations, like real-time comparisons and asset diagnoses.

For plant owners contemplating a control system refresh, here are some factors to consider:

  • Do you want to use a phased or a simultaneous upgrade approach?
  • What is the long-term vision for your facility?
  • What is your budget?
  • What are some new rules or regulations in your community that could affect plant operations?
  • Which control system would provide the most security to protect your plant from potential cyberattacks?

With those considerations in mind, and in collaboration with the right engineering and consulting team, you’ll be able to identify the appropriate modernization solution for your aging hydroelectric facility. Although hydropower has provided clean and affordable electricity for over 100 years, it has yet to reach its full potential. With the world’s ever-growing demands for greener energy solutions, hydropower is an asset that has a bright future.


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David White is a senior project manager for Burns & McDonnell with 20 years of industry experience. He provides power generation and heavy industrial clients with modernization solutions, evaluation studies, design management and construction management.