The International Hydropower Association (IHA) was founded on 16 November 1995. In the quarter of a century since, the hydropower sector has seen tremendous growth – doubling in size from 625 GW to over 1,300 GW today.
With this growth has come greater recognition that hydropower projects can and should be delivered according to fundamental principles of sustainability: working with sensitivity to nature and bringing benefits to society.
Over the years, IHA has played a leading role in bringing together stakeholders to share perspectives and build and share knowledge about international good practice in hydropower development.
IHA is founded as a non-profit membership association
Professor Emil Mosonyi, an eminent hydropower expert, leads discussions with leading hydropower organisations with the aim of establishing a global non-profit membership association for the sector.
In 1995, IHA was founded and its constitution endorsed at a UNESCO assembly. Prof Mosonyi becomes IHA’s first President and Richard M. Taylor is appointed as Executive Secretary.
IHA’s founding members included the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, Kemijoki Oy, Stucky Consulting Engineers and Aqua-Media International. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was given observer status.
In the years that followed, IHA quickly became active in over 50 countries. Following the completion of Prof Mosonyi’s term in 1997, Prof Raymond Lafitte was elected as President, guiding the association into the new millennium.
"Establishing an international organisation which is truly representative of the global hydropower sector has been a challenge," reflects Richard M Taylor, who stepped down as CEO in 2019.
"IHA started with a core group of organisations with shared interests and concerns about the future of hydropower. Without those forward-thinking and brave individuals and organisations, the association wouldn’t have been established."
Hydropower comes under scrutiny
At the turn of the century, there was increased global attention on the environmental and social impacts of hydropower development.
A watershed moment came in November 2000 with the publication of a report by the World Commission on Dams. The commission was formed n 1997, under the auspices of the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in response to growing opposition to large dams and its report made stern recommendations and identified priorities for the sector.
This marked the beginning of a new era for hydropower, with increased focus on ensuring the sustainability of new projects.
In the years that followed, IHA played an active role in a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) dams and development project, and supported international efforts to share and build knowledge on good practice across the sector.
"The early 2000s saw relentless attacks on the hydropower industry," says Dr Refaat Abdel-Malek, another former IHA President. "These were challenging times because these attacks caused many key institutions to withhold financial support to hydropower development, especially in developing countries where these projects were key to alleviate poverty. The role IHA played to address these challenges was imperative."
Launch of the IHA Blue Planet Prize
The IHA Blue Planet Prize was launched in 2001 to recognise projects that demonstrate excellence in sustainable development. The first to be awarded the prize was the King River hydropower development in Tasmania, Australia.
Between 2001 and 2019 the prize was awarded to eight projects:
A custodian of sustainability
IHA published its first Sustainability Guidelines in 2004, underscoring its reputation as a champion of sustainability in the hydropower sector. The guidelines followed the World Commission on Dams’ strategic priorities.
The development of these guidelines led to a fundamental shift in how the hydropower industry planned, developed and operated hydropower projects, and resulted in a growing appreciation of the technology’s role in combatting climate change, reducing poverty and boosting prosperity.
Renewables working together
In 2004, more than 150 governments met in Bonn, Germany, for the International Renewable Energy Conference, resulting in a political declaration, international action plan and policy recommendations for governments and international organisations.
The conference also led to the formation of the International Renewable Energy Industry Alliance (REN Alliance), founded by IHA and representatives from the geothermal, solar, wind and bioenergy sectors. The alliance continues today to advocate for the deployment of renewable energy in response to climate change.
"Without the manifold initiatives of IHA, hydropower would not be considered as renewable today," believes Karin Seelos, Senior Sustainability Advisor to Statkraft and former coordinator of IHA's environment committee.
"The UN declaration on renewables had been drafted to exclude hydropower in 2004 at the first International Renewable Energy Conference. IHA’s systematic briefing of energy ministries from hydropower countries led to ministers from Brazil and Uganda refusing to sign the declaration unless hydropower was included."
“By clarifying misunderstandings, informing about the potential benefits of sustainable hydropower and by developing broadly shared criteria for international good practice, IHA has managed to demonstrate that hydropower can make a significant contribution to sustainable development.”
China Three Gorges joins IHA
The world’s largest hydropower plant, China Three Gorges, joined IHA in 2005 signalling the importance and influence of IHA at a global scale.
"The growth and development of IHA has been quite extraordinary, especially in relation to the number of members and partners involved today," says Richard M Taylor, former IHA CEO.
"This is perhaps, for me, the most important element of IHA's success: working with so many organisations, including governments, NGOs and financial and academic institutions, which have specialties to bring to, and influence on, the hydropower sector. It has kept IHA very well informed of international and national priorities and perspectives."
An assessment protocol for hydropower
In 2006, IHA published a Sustainability Assessment Protocol to measure the performance of hydropower projects. This led to the formation of a multi-stakeholder forum to achieve wider consensus on how to define what a sustainable hydropower project should look like, bringing in voices beyond the industry.
The forum included representatives of environmental NGOs (WWF, The Nature Conservancy), social NGOs (Oxfam, Transparency International), ending agencies (The World Bank Equator Principles banking group), governments (China, Zambia, Germany, Iceland, Norway), as well as the hydropower industry.
Over 30 months of cross-sector engagement between 2007 and 2010, the participants reviewed IHA’s sustainability guidance, the World Commission on Dams' recommendations, the Equator Principles, World Bank safeguard policies and IFC performance standards. A draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP) was subsequently released in 2009, which was trialled in 16 countries across six continents, and subjected to further consultation. A final version was produced in 2010.
The forum became the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, which was mandated to govern the HSAP, using the same consensus-building approach used to create it.
“One of the major achievements was the promulgation of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol whose evolution over the years has ensured that hydropower can be developed sustainably and that existing unsustainable projects can be made sustainable through use of the protocol," says Israel Phiri, former IHA Board Member. "Key to this achievement was the buy-in of the world’s major hydropower developers, in developing countries, such as China, India and Brazil.”
A world congress for hydropower
IHA cemented itself as an authority in the hydropower sector by building a global community and creating a platform for knowledge exchange. The association held its first international congress in May 2007 in Antalya, Turkey.
The event brought together leading decision-makers, policy-makers and influencers from across the world to learn about and share advances in sustainable hydropower.
In the years that followed, the biennial World Hydropower Congress has an unmissable event for those wishing to shape priorities and actions in the sector.
IHA staged the event in 2009 in Iceland, 2011 in Brazil, 2013 in Malaysia, 2015 in China, 2017 in Ethiopia, and 2019 in France. The 2021 congress is set to become a hybrid virtual event with a concluding summit in Costa Rica in September 2021.
The congress gives the opportunity for stakeholders around the world to network, lay the groundwork for future initiatives and learn more about sustainable hydropower.
"The World Hydropower Congresses over the years have gone from strength to strength, growing in stature and gaining international recognition," says Dr Terry Moss, former Eskom senior executive and IHA Vice President.
In 2013, IHA launched its first Hydropower Report - later renamed the Hydropower Status Report - a flagship briefing to inform the sector and beyond on key trends in hydropower development. The annual report is now downloaded thousands of times a year and widely cited, helping to bring advancements in the sector into the public sphere.
"Since its inception, IHA has evolved from a small group of industry visionaries to a more inclusive organisation that is very effective in helping inform both global and regional decisions in matters related to water, energy and environment – three of the most critical requirements for continuing and sustainable human development," says former IHA President Ken Adams.
In 2017, in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair for Global Environmental Change, IHA launched an online tool that allows hydropower companies, investors, consultants, decision-makers and other stakeholders to more accurately report on the net impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
This tool replaced the GHG Measurement Guidelines for Freshwater Reservoirs, a standard for measuring emissions from reservoirs developed by IHA and first published in 2010.
The G-res Tool uses a new modelling methodology based on current scientific knowledge and draws on measurements obtained from more than 200 reservoirs worldwide. It provides a way to assess GHG impacts without the need for large-scale field measurement campaigns and multi-year studies, using readily available input data.
The G-res Tool was developed in cooperation with researchers from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQÀM), the Norwegian Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) and the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (LUKE).
Sustainability guidelines and tools expanded
The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is expanded into a set of three Hydropower Sustainability Tools, with Guidelines on Good International Industry Practice, defining expected performance, and an ESG Gap Analysis Tool for checking for gaps against good practice and delivering a gap management plan.
The assessment protocol itself now covers climate mitigation and resilience. A project that scores well under the new criteria will have a low carbon footprint and be resilient to the impacts of climate change.
“This marked the most significant expansion in the tools available to assess hydropower performance in almost a decade, following extensive consultation within and beyond the hydropower sector,” comments Roger Gill, IHA President.
“This is good news for both project proponents and concerned stakeholders who want to measure projects against international practice. Developers and investors now have a targeted, cost effective way of assessing sustainability, while governments and communities can be confident that evaluations are based on robust, objective criteria."
New climate resilience guidance
At the World Hydropower Congress in Paris in May 2019, IHA launched landmark technical guidance to help the industry become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The Hydropower Sector Climate Resilience Guide supports investors, owners and developers to make informed decisions about how to plan, build, upgrade and operate hydropower systems in the face of increasingly variable climatic and hydrological conditions.
“This guide will play an important role in helping financial institutions to scale up both the quantity and the quality of their investment in climate-resilient hydropower," says Craig Davies, Head of Climate Resilience Investments at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
“There is an urgent need to actively prepare for the resiliency of hydropower assets in the face of increased frequency of extreme weather events and rapid changes in hydrological patterns to reduce the risk of climate-related disruptions," adds Pravin Karki, Global Lead Hydropower and Dams at the World Bank.
IHA's Board appoints Eddie Rich as its new Chief Executive Officer, after Richard M Taylor retires in September 2019. The incoming CEO has a track record of achieving transformational change through delivering ground-breaking, multi-stakeholder partnerships with industry, government and civil society.
"There is need for a bigger and better contribution to green energy from hydropower," says Eddie following his appointment.
"IHA is the key organisation to make sure that the industry is well informed about good practices, has the capacity to implement them, and the world benefits from the best use of this precious technology. IHA's work on building and sharing high quality and evidence-based knowledge is critically important.”
Amid the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, IHA brings together 16 international and national organisations to set out guiding principles for energy infrastructure policy in the coming recovery.
The organisations represent developers, operators, manufacturers, researchers and innovators including the world’s largest hydropower producers in China, the USA, Canada and Russia, among other countries.
IHA publishes its recommendations in an influential position paper. The paper shows how the pandemic has demonstrated hydropower’s resilience and critical role in delivering clean, reliable and affordable energy, especially in times of crisis.
Free, prior and informed consent
New sustainability guidance issued by IHA and the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council gives confidence to local communities, industry and investors that hydropower projects can be developed while respecting Indigenous People’s lands, rights and culture.
Projects which achieve the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected Indigenous People can now be recognised as meeting international good practice. FPIC is a principle recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is a condition of performance standards issued by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation.
IHA launches training academy
The Hydropower Sustainability Training Academy is launched, building on IHA’s 25 years of experience in developing guidance on hydropower development, as well as its expertise in delivering training and capacity building.
In November 2020, IHA and the U.S. Department of Energy joined forces to launch a global initiative of 11 governments and more than 60 organisations aimed at addressing the urgent need for clean and reliable energy storage.
Through convening three industry-led working groups, this year-long initiative will develop guidance and recommendations about how sustainable pumped storage hydropower (PSH) can best support the energy transition.
A new sustainability standard
On behalf of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, IHA publishes a consultation paper on the development of a global sustainability standard for hydropower.
If adopted, the Hydropower Sustainability Standard would apply a sustainability rating, or label, to projects of any size or stage of development. The certification system builds on the Hydropower Sustainability Tools.
The proposal would incentivise and recognise responsible project developers, and help investors, governments and communities understand which schemes meet international environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance requirements. The consultation runs until February 2021.
"Over a decade of breakthrough work with our multi-stakeholder partners has established a clear methodology on how to sustainably develop hydropower," says IHA President Roger Gill. "Now we must ensure that this great legacy is applied across the globe."