New Year Message from Eddie Rich

Dear friends

“We have to guarantee energy for our population. Our colleagues who work in the plant are as much heroes as nurses or doctors - because if we do not produce energy, there could be incalculable chaos.” - Ernst Bergen, Paraguayan Director-General of Itaipu Binacional, March 2020.

Like many organisations right now, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) has just completed our end-of-year virtual staff retreat. It was a time to reflect on the past year, and so I asked each staff member to mention one work achievement that they were proud of in 2020, one thing that they were looking forward to in 2021, and what they hoped for sustainable hydropower by 2030.  

For me, in a year that has seen unprecedented delays and changes in demand, the resilience – and heroism – of sustainable hydropower is perhaps the most striking achievement. As I wrote in my blog Hydropower is keeping the lights on, IHA’s task has been to prepare for the future by ensuring decision-makers draw the right conclusions and make the right political choices going forward.

In this message, I want to focus on how we take the sense of purpose and momentum that we saw with Covid-19 green recovery plans, into the other great global crisis – climate change – and what that means for our vision for 2030.

Addressing climate change is, of course, the defining issue of the century. The world is not on track to meet the Paris targets. However, paraphrasing the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol, the Covid-19 crisis has fast-tracked the energy transition 10 years in terms of the energy mix.

Fossil fuels have been dealt a major blow, whereas renewables, especially hydropower, have proven remarkably resilient (even if project investment was significantly hit). With major green stimulus investment on the horizon, the catch-up could gather pace. But the public investment must be well directed.

Getting the most from wind and solar undoubtedly means balancing with sustainable hydropower. As the World Bank has shown, 1 GW of hydropower can support 6 GW of wind or solar development.

We will need to continue to address the policy and market frameworks that so far do not properly value hydropower for its storage and flexibility. We can also widen access to technology and efficiency innovation across the sector, and help projects to demonstrate good practice in sustainability in all hydropower projects.

This is an agenda, I hope, that all stakeholders can work on together.

As we head towards 2030, the year by which the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are due to be achieved, it is worth noting that hydropower will play an important role in SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG13 (climate action).

Whilst we all talk of the importance of renewables working together to deliver low-carbon, low-impact energy, we also need to remember its non-power services – flood and drought control, irrigation, transport and recreation, among others.

In 2021, the World Hydropower Congress will bring together stakeholders to set the path for the next decade. It will be the most policy-focused congress to date and we hope to take its recommendations to the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) six weeks later. This is an opportunity to put sustainable hydropower at the centre of a globally agreed energy transition. I hope that we can go on this journey together.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, we wish you a safe and peaceful new year and look forward to a productive 2021.

Eddie Rich

Chief Executive of the International Hydropower Association (IHA)

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