Facts about hydropower

Renewable hydropower is a reliable, versatile and low cost source of clean electricity generation and responsible water management.

Modern hydropower plants are helping to accelerate the clean energy transition, providing essential power, storage, flexibility and climate mitigation services.

There are four broad types of hydropower plants: run-of-river, storage, pumped storage and offshore hydropower.

Safely managed water

Hydropower reservoirs provide clean water for homes, industry and agriculture, as well as recreation and transportation services.

This infrastructure can be used to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events such as floods and drought, which are on the rise due to climate change. More.

Low-carbon and pollution-free

Hydropower is among the cleanest sources of electricity, with a low greenhouse gas emission intensity compared to other energy forms.

If hydropower was replaced by coal, IHA estimates up to 4 billion tonnes of additional greenhouse gases would be emitted annually, increasing global emissions from fossil fuels and industry by 10 per cent. There would also be 150 million more tonnes of air polluting particulates emitted each year. More.

The single largest renewable energy source

Around 60 per cent of all renewable electricity is generated by hydropower. The sector produces about 16 per cent of total electricity generation from all sources including nuclear and fossil fuels.

No country has come close to achieving 100% renewables without hydropower in the energy mix.

Estimated renewable energy share of global electricity production in 2019 (Source: REN21 2020)

Worldwide hydropower installed capacity reached 1,308 gigawatts (GW) in 2019 as generation hit a record 4,306 terawatt hours (TWh). China, Brazil, the USA, Canada and India are the largest hydropower producers. More.

Charging up variable renewables

Hydropower is an ideal complement to variable renewables like wind and solar, thanks to its flexibility and energy storage services.

Hydropower can meet demand when these intermittent sources are unavailable. Pumped storage hydropower, operating like a green, rechargeable battery, absorbs energy when supply exceeds demand.

Low cost over the long-term

Hydropower provides very low cost electricity over its long lifetime, despite relatively high upfront construction costs.

The global weighted average cost of electricity from hydropower projects in 2018 was US$0.047 per kWh, making it the lowest-cost source of electricity in many markets (IRENA).

Hydropower provides an opportunity to generate significant revenue from exports to neighbouring countries. In addition, the hydropower industry directly employs around 2 million people worldwide, and many more in connected supply chains (IRENA)

Sustainability in hydropower

Hydropower projects of all sizes can result in net-benefits to communities and the environment, provided they have a strategic fit in a river basin and are responsibly developed and operated.

The Hydropower Sustainability Tools exist to ensure that projects can be developed and operated in accordance with good practice.  These guidelines and assessment tools cover 26 environmental, social and governance performance criteria.

Governed by a multi-stakeholder group of civil society, industry, governments and financial institutions, the tools are aligned with safeguards developed by the World Bank and other organisations. More.

Hydropower and the SDGs

Sustainable hydropower supports the achievement of the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all member governments of the United Nations and provide a blueprint of priorities for national governments, multilateral organisations, business and civil society.

When responsibly developed and operated, hydropower projects can directly support the achievement of SDGs 6, 7, 9 and 13:

Goal 6: Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for all
Goal 7: Providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 9: Upgrading infrastructure with clean, environmentally sound technologies
Goal 13: Taking action to combat climate change and its impacts

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