2021 Hydropower Status Report underscores need for rapid growth to achieve net zero

Latest data on hydropower growth and development show the world remains perilously off-track in the race to achieve net zero emissions, according to the 2021 Hydropower Status Report.

Despite the global disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Hydropower Association’s report shows that installed hydropower capacity rose by 1.6 per cent to 1,330 gigawatts (GW) over the past year.

To limit dangerous global warming and achieve net zero by 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) however says the water power sector will need to double in size to 2,600 GW. This equates to building the same amount of capacity in the next 30 years as was built in the last 100 years.

“At the present rate of hydropower development, the global energy pathway to net zero emissions will not be realised,” warn IHA President Roger Gill and IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich in the report’s foreword. “This is a wake-up call for policy-makers, hydropower developers and project financiers and provides clarity for the public.

“Investment in sustainably developed and responsibly operated hydropower is essential to support the massive expansion of variable renewables like wind and solar. However annual growth rates of 1.5 to 2 per cent cannot meet the doubling of installed capacity proposed by the International Energy Agency to achieve net zero by 2050.”

According to the report, the Covid-19 crisis has further underlined how the power system flexibility provided by hydropower is now a prerequisite for the clean energy transition. Hydropower’s critical role was illustrated by a recent near blackout incident in Europe in January 2021.

Despite the slump in demand for fossil fuels experienced during 2020, hydropower generated a record 4,370 terawatt hours (TWh) of clean electricity – up from the previous record of 4,306 TWh in 2019. This is roughly equivalent to the entire annual electricity consumption of the United States.

During 2020, hydropower projects totalling 21 GW were put into operation, up on 2019’s 15.6 GW. Nearly two-thirds of this growth came from China, which saw 13.8 GW of new capacity. Among other countries that added new capacity, only Turkey (2.5 GW) contributed more than 1 GW.

Major projects completed last year include the 2.1 GW Lauca facility in Angola, the 1.8 GW Jixi pumped storage facility in China and the Ilisu (1.2 GW) and Lower Kaleköy (0.5 GW) projects in Turkey. The single biggest project was Wudongde in China, which put eight of its 12 units online, adding 6.8 GW to the Chinese grid. The remainder is expected to be commissioned in 2021.

China remains the world leader in respect of total hydropower installed capacity with over 370 GW. Brazil (109 GW), the USA (102 GW), Canada (82 GW) and India (50 GW) make up the rest of the top five. Japan and Russia are just behind India, followed by Norway (33 GW) and Turkey (31 GW).

Read the Hydropower Status Report online.

Download the Status Report.

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