IHA: Putting sustainable hydropower at the heart of the energy transition

Dear members, partners and friends

Happy 25th birthday! Much of the past 25 years has been spent building a better hydropower sector. Thanks for being part of the journey. Building on this platform, our next 25 years can have a more confident tone.

Never before has there been so much attention on renewable energy. This is an opportunity that hydropower cannot let pass. Hydropower is green – indisputably part of the energy transition to meet the Paris targets and the Sustainable Development Goals on water and energy. It is also clean – not just non-polluting but also systematically meeting good social, environmental and governance practice; affordable – as low cost as any other energy source over the life cycle of a hydropower project; reliable – alongside variables and an interconnected grid, it delivers resilient green energy security; and modern – a flexible, proven technology that optimises well with other renewable resources and with batteries.

But it is not just about the sector making a case for itself. We need to work with others to open doors:

  • Governments to create enabling policy and pricing frameworks that make planning more streamlined, and quicker, without compromising on sustainability.
  • Markets to find mechanisms to value electricity beyond the cost of generation – they need to value storage, flexibility, enabling of variable renewables and water services.
  • Civil society to build a common ground in which the sector and others are held to account in delivering the appropriate trade-offs between infrastructure and long-term energy transition.
  • Renewables community to more clearly express how hydropower enables and advances wind and solar penetration by balancing the grid. Hybrid solutions like floating solar and pumped storage are visual examples of renewable working together.
  • Energy-intensive industries that need hydropower to meet their net-zero emission commitments.
  • Regional, national and local grids that should welcome hydropower as, in most cases, their only option to get to 100 per cent decarbonisation.

New initiatives to set the next era

That is why we are announcing a series of initiatives on our 25th anniversary for IHA’s next era:

  • We are launching a consultation on a global Hydropower Sustainability Standard. The debate of the past 25 years has been too much about big or small hydropower, or greenfield or modernisation. This surely misses the mark and what we should be discussing is whether a project is sustainable or unsustainable. This Standard will provide a universally accepted benchmark for good practice as well as incentivise best practice beyond that, based on the tried and tested sustainability tools developed by companies, social and environmental NGOs, governments and financial institutions. There will be no excuse for a future hydropower development not to meet good practice.
  • This good practice is reinforced by the new Hydropower Sustainability Training Academy which has a curriculum for the new hydropower era.
  • We expect our members to lead in demonstrating that hydropower can be done in a sustainable manner. The IHA Board agreed an IHA Charter on Sustainable Hydropower. Between the 25th anniversary and the World Hydropower Congress, we expect all our members to publicly express their support. A commitment to good practice, not a willingness to pay a given membership fee, is what should define our members.
  • Related to the Standard, we have established alongside NGOs, governments and International Financial Institutions, a working group on Hydropower and Protected Areas to help develop good practice on this key disputed topic.
  • Alongside the US Government, we are co-hosting the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower. It seems that there is an unsated desire by many different stakeholders to take a fundamental look at how to enable, incentivise and develop more pumped storage as part of the energy transition. At the first meeting this month, launched by former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, almost a dozen governments signed up, over 200 participated and a work plan was adopted with conclusions to be taken to the World Hydropower Congress and beyond.

We are also continuing with our work on XFLEX HYDRO to examine how hydropower can provide flexibility in a cost-effective way in modern power markets and seek funding to open up our World Hydropower Database to provide greater transparency and improve research quality and decision making.

At the same time, we will continue to work with key partners who are working on complementary efforts: IRENA Collaborative Framework on Hydropower, which was established in June, the International Energy Agency, which is working on the IEA Renewables Markets Report in 2021 which will focus on Hydropower, REN21 who are preparing a Renewables Taskforce including key messages to take to COP26, the World Bank’s Energy Storage Partnership and work on climate resilience, and so on.  

Inspired by the U.S. Uncommon Dialogue, we also plan to step up our dialogue with environmental campaigners to explore the challenges and trade-offs involved in developing the infrastructure needed to tackle climate change.

Do you know the way to San José?

We have come a long way from the World Commission on Dams in 2000. But arguably we have more still to do. Climate change is the pre-eminent challenge the world faces, and sustainable hydropower must be part of the answer to this challenge. According to IRENA, another 1,000 GW capacity of hydropower is required in the next 30 years to meet the necessary energy transition.

The above activities will culminate in a San José Declaration that we hope can be agreed by all stakeholders at the World Hydropower Congress in September 2021 and then be taken to COP26 six weeks later, setting a common narrative that the sector is ready to be the best it can be.

In the meantime, you can help by:
•    Encouraging all projects to be sustainability tested.
•    Learning and delivering best and good practice in hydropower.
•    Demanding best practice in your partners.
•    Publicly expressing support for the IHA Charter for Sustainable Hydropower.
•    Engaging in knowledge networks through Hydropower Pro, IHA’s community of practitioners, academics, policy-makers, service-providers, suppliers, campaigners, financiers and media.
•    Engaging in energy policy through platform like the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower.
•    Helping to deliver a groundbreaking 2021 World Hydropower Congress and setting the policy for the next phase of sustainable hydropower.

There is a momentum behind us. It needs to be harnessed and steered if climate change – the defining challenge of the next 25 years – is going to be addressed.

Eddie Rich

CEO, International Hydropower Association

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