By Francisco Lopez
Technical Principal Engineer – Dams

The water and hydropower sectors have changed dramatically since our origins on the iconic Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme 70 years ago in 1949, one of the largest and most complex hydroelectric schemes in the world. While technology has advanced rapidly, water is and will continue to be an essential and ever scarcer global resource.


It is both an exciting and daunting time for our industry as new innovations and technologies advance and transform how we operate. While we celebrate our 70 years of successes it is also an opportune time to look to and imagine our future, to the ways in which our markets will shift and change, and how we will adapt and grow over the next 70 years.

SMEC has invested in a team of leaders who are looking ahead at emerging trends and new methodologies, and studying what we can apply to benefit our clients. It’s important to have a team of experts who champion change that generates value. And whilst none of us have a crystal ball that will reveal exactly what the next 70 years will look like, here are a few predictions from me.

While we celebrate our 70 years of successes, it is also an opportune time to look to and imagine our future.

Physical or chemical solutions
The future effects of climate change on water resources in the world will depend on trends in both climatic and non-climatic factors.  Evaluating these impacts is challenging because water availability, quality and stream flow are sensitive to changes in temperature, precipitation and evaporation. While changes in temperature and precipitation will depend on multi-discipline global actions, from the dam industry side I expect that physical or chemical solutions will be found to prevent evaporation of large area reservoirs, making future large-scale projects more attractive.

Hybrid wind and hydro power
One of the biggest challenges wind farms face today is how to generate power when there’s no wind. I believe that the existing concept of hybrid wind and hydro power will be widely implemented over the next 70 years. Wind power is used to pump water into pumped storage reservoirs, from where water is released to generate electricity.  To function, the wind-hydro plant must be located on a hill. Water will flow down the hill to generate hydroelectricity, and it will be pumped back up the hill when energy is not needed. This enables the wind-hydro plant to continually produce power.

Decommissioning of dams due to fish migration
Dams may impact on fish populations. Migrations and other fish movements may be stopped or delayed, and the quality, quantity and accessibility of their habitat, which plays an important role in population sustainability, could be affected too. Whist dam decommissioning in might not be a trend in Australia, in many other developed countries there could be more appetite for it triggered by environmental factors such as fish migration, particularly in areas where water supply and energy can be replaced with desalination plants and other renewable energy sources.

Francisco has over 20 years’ experience in the field of dams, seismic and structural engineering. He has participated in in more than 90 dam projects spanning four continents and is recognised as an industry expert. He is a member of the technical committees of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), the Australian National Commission on Large Dams (ANCOLD) and the US Society on Dams (USSD).

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  • Congratulations SMEC on your 70th Anniversary in Australia. You made such an impact on Australia with the first Snowy Hydro Project and are will continue with your contribution with the next Snowy Hydro 2.0. SMEC is not only impacting our lives with infrastructure projects but making a huge difference to the lives of Aboriginal families throughout Australia by financially supporting Engineering Aid Australia and the Indigenous Australian Engineering Schools (IAES). The aim of the program is to introduce and encourage Indigenous teenagers to become professional Engineers.

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