Interview: Claude Lambert of Alstom Hydro North America

Lambert Discusses the State of North American Hydropower

Claude Lambert, president and chief executive officer of Alstom Hydro North America, discusses technology, policy and the factors driving the hydropower market.

A leading supplier of hydropower equipment, Alstom Hydro’s turbines and generators account for a quarter of the world’s hydropower capacity.

Based in France, Alstom provides turnkey solutions for the construction and operation of hydroelectric plants, in addition to a wide range of services, including maintenance and the retrofit and refurbishment of existing facilities.

Hydro Review interviewed Claude Lambert, president and chief executive officer of Alstom Hydro North America. Lambert discusses hydropower development in the U.S. and Canada and how Alstom is addressing customer needs in each country.

The following is a transcript of that discussion.

Q. In North America, we are seeing a commitment to move forward with new hydro developments. Is your company seeing that same commitment and, if so, what do you attribute that to?

Claude Lambert: In North America, two main drivers are affecting the hydro market: first, the aging of the existing hydropower fleet, and second, the need for domestic, reliable, and affordable energy. Therefore, the development of new hydro on existing dams along with the development of pumped storage are trends that we are seeing in requests from our customers.

Q. How would you describe the market for retrofitting the existing fleet of hydropower plants in the U.S. and Canada?

Lambert: We see enormous potential in the North American hydropower plant retrofit market. The average age of the installed units is 41 years and 54 years, in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. Hydro units have an estimated average operating lifetime of 40 years; thus, in the coming years, this aging ‘fleet’ will require maintenance, improvements in reliability, as well as upgrading and updating existing technology in the form of major repairs, rehabilitation, refurbishment or replacement.
Furthermore, the operation of existing units has changed dramatically in recent years, which allows Alstom to increase power on existing units and add peaking capability.

Q. What about redevelopment work? Your contract for the Lower Mattagami project is a good example.

Lambert: This is a good example of redevelopment work that utilizes the best of Alstom’s capabilities. Under the contract that we signed with Kiewitt Alarie Partnership, we will supply three hydro turbine generator sets to the new Smoky Falls Generating Station that will replace the existing station, thus significantly optimizing water utilization and boosting capacity to over 270 MW. The project, in line with Ontario Power Generation’s ambition to expand hydroelectricity generating capacity in Ontario, will provide incremental renewable energy capacity to the province and will supply clean energy to 270,000 homes. Specifically, we will design and supply three new generating units, including propeller turbines, vertical generators, static excitation systems, speed governor systems, and protection and control systems. Alstom will provide a complete turnkey package, including installation and commissioning of the units, which is planned for the end of 2013.

Q. Pumped storage is clearly a priority for Alstom. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for pumped storage in North America? What are the biggest challenges?

Lambert: Indeed, there are many opportunities for pumped storage in North America. This is particularly true in the U.S. where financial incentives, state and federal renewable energy standards, as well as legislation and policies are helping to foster a climate of support for pumped storage technology. In addition, as the U.S. is looking to increase the share of renewable energy such as wind and solar in its energy supply, especially in the western part of the country, pumped storage will become increasingly important as it is the most efficient and flexible means of storing energy on a large scale, providing grid stability and enabling a reduction in emissions.

Today, there are 40 pumped storage projects currently in operation in the U.S. that provide more than 20 GW of capacity to the energy supply system (Inventory of Electric Utility Power Plants in the United States, Energy Information Administration, 2007), representing 16 percent of the U.S.’s renewable capacity (Existing Capacity by Energy Source, Energy Information Administration, 2007). This capacity is set to increase given the 31 GW of capacity from new pumped storage projects proposals that have either received or are awaiting preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

However, as much as the hydropower industry supports and is committed to new pumped storage projects, it is important to remain aware of the challenges that remain ahead. Although many incentives have been put forth to incite investment in and development of pumped storage, the investment climate is still uncertain. Moreover, development timelines from obtaining the necessary permits and approvals to actual construction, for pumped storage projects are long.
At Alstom, the world-leading pumped storage provider, having manufactured more than 20 percent of worldwide running pumped storage units, you can be sure that we will be monitoring pumped storage developments in the U.S. closely.

Q. Alstom has taken a lead in the industry in improving manufacturing efficiencies; could you describe the progress your company has made over the last few years in how work is done in your facilities?

Lambert: Alstom has implemented the Hydro Manufacturing Concept (HMC). The HMC is a philosophy that guides every aspect of manufacturing in Hydro. It is based on the principles of lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is proven to reduce lead times and increase productivity by looking at each aspect of production and asking a simple question: does it create value for my customers?
In essence, HMC allows us to improve quality, shorten production cycles, and reduce costs.

Q. Describe some of Alstom’s innovations in peer-to-peer learning.

Lambert: Learning is a cornerstone of Alstom’s people strategy. Our people are at the heart of our business and developing their potential is a priority for the Group. At Alstom, learning is a continuous process enhanced by the strength of our networks. Alstom University was launched in 2007, with the mission of supporting Alstom’s business goals. By instilling a learning culture and community approach, Alstom University’s aim is to ensure that employees have the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to contribute to both Alstom’s and to their individual successes.

By Marla Barnes, Hydro Review