COP26: Building hydropower projects in an environmentally friendly way

Pictured: Alex Campbell, Head of Research and Policy at IHA

Hydropower projects should be planned and delivered in an environmentally friendly way in line with the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, a globally recognised certification and labelling scheme.  

This was the message from Eddie Rich, Chief Executive of the International Hydropower Association (IHA) at a UN Climate Conference (COP26) side event. The event was hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute in partnership with the International Energy Agency and the Government of Tajikistan.  

“Alongside governments, civil society and international banks, we have developed a set of hydropower sustainability tools which have now been turned into a standard,” Mr Rich said. “It’s a shared standard for all of us to measure against.”

In addition, the session looked at long-term water availability and preventing water-related natural disasters. Mr Rich identified opportunities to retrofit non-powered dams with sustainable hydropower whilst also using existing infrastructure to mitigate these risks.  

“[We will need] water management for flood control, drought control and for irrigation. And if we’re building that anyway, why not power it? Why not take away some clean power?” he asked.

Watch the video below (session will begin at 06:11:00)

Inter-governmental stakeholder collaboration  

The importance of increased inter-governmental stakeholder collaboration in hydropower development was emphasised by Ariel Scheffer da Silva, Head of Environmental Management at Itaipu Binacional – Brazil.

Itaipu Binacional, an IHA member organisation, has developed an ambitious reforestation project which Ms. Scheffer da Silva said is protecting “more than 100 hectares of natural reserves and forests.” This has helped to support sustainable sediment management, preserving the forests and ecosystems.  

“It is a global exemplar from the South, [and] a paragon of international cooperation in the fight against climate change.”  

Hydropower’s essential role in tackling climate change

Alex Campbell, Head of Research and Policy at IHA highlighted how the changing nature of electricity grids – with more variable renewables such as solar and wind – would increase the demand for low carbon flexible sources of electricity. Hydropower would play an essential role in keeping the lights on and carbon emissions down.  

However, urgent action is needed from policymakers to make sure that the flexibility needs of future systems are understood and investors have clarity on future revenue streams.

He also highlighted how Pumped Storage Hydropower (PSH) and reservoir hydropower are more cost-effective and sustainable compared to alternatives.  

When questioned on how the hydropower sector can monitor carbon emissions from their reservoirs, Mr Campbell advised organisations to use IHA’s G-res Tool.

“We’ve worked with UNESCO and the World Bank to develop an open access tool called the G-res Tool, where users can input relevant data to work out the emissions from a given reservoir.

The evidence shows that median emissions from reservoirs are much lower than fossil fuels and comparable with other renewable technologies.”  

Find out more about the Hydropower Sustainability Standard

Find out more about the G-res Tool

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