REGION profile

North and Central America

Hydropower installed capacity
205 GW
Pumped storage installed capacity
23 GW
Generation by hydropower
731 TWh

In the United States, total hydropower capacity, including pumped storage, remained at 103 GW in 2019. While most recent hydropower growth comes from small projects, the Department of Energy estimates there is nearly 50 GW of untapped hydropower potential; including 30 GW of pumped storage and 5 GW of development at nonpowered dams. The existing hydropower fleet continues to play a critical role, providing carbon-free flexibility and reliability as fossil fuels are replaced with intermittent renewables. Most States are setting carbon-free goals over the next 30 years and relying on hydropower to help achieve these.

In Canada, hydropower remains the dominant source of electricity supply, representing 61 per cent of total electricity generation and 55 per cent of total installed generation capacity in 2019. Since 2005, renewable electricity production has grown more from hydropower (growth of 40,000 GWh) than from wind and solar combined (30,000 GWh). Renewable electricity (water, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal) represented approximately 68 per cent of Canada’s total electricity production in 2019.

Factors including the near-completion of several new major green-field hydropower projects and the regulated phase-out of coal-fired electricity are driving continued growth in hydroelectricity production and installed capacity. It is forecast that hydroelectricity production will have grown by a further 9 per cent by 2030 from 2019 levels, representing 62 percent of total electricity generation in that year.

Download the Hydropower Status Report (PDF) and the presentation (PPT)

Historically, Central America’s power supply has been predominantly served by hydropower, but this has fluctuated over the years. Hydropower now represents 40 per cent of the installed capacity and approximately 50 per cent of the electricity generation in the region. The Central America Electrical Interconnexion (SIEPAC) facilitates renewables in the region and the exchange of electricity between countries to strengthen their energy security.

In the Caribbean, consumers pay some of the highest electricity charges in the world, largely due to the predominance of fossil-based generation and dependence on fossil fuel imports. Hydropower represents only 6 per cent of the electricity generation. In recent years hurricanes Irma and Maria caused major damage to electricity infrastructure in many countries, exacerbating the lack of access to electricity. Countries are aiming to increase renewables through mechanisms such as national plans to develop new projects in the Dominican Republic, modernising existing hydropower facilities in Haiti, and privatising the electricity sector to attract investment in Puerto Rico.

Recent developments

The Mexican government has emphasised the need for public energy generation and an increase in hydropower installed capacity through the upgrade of existing assets. CFE, the state-owned company, will focus on the modernisation of 18 existing hydropower plants, as well as the development of 14 new ones. There is strong opposition to new developments but Chicoasen II will resume construction after it was stalled in 2018. Guatemala commissioned the Renace IV, which will add the last 58 MW of the 301 MW Renace Hydroelectric Complex.

The Dominican Republic has considerably increased wind and solar installed capacity as well as ne hydropower projects of less than 5 MW aimed at bringing renewable electricity to rural communities.

In Haiti, the government promised to continue efforts to repair and modernise all the hydropower stations after rehabilitating the 54 MW Péligre plant, the country’s main asset for both water and energy supply.

In Puerto Rico, due to privatisation, the Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña is taking the lead to reactivate the 15 MW Dos Bocas and 25 MW Caonillas hydropower plants, both over 70 years old. Dos Bocas is operating with 6 MW while Caonillas is not operational, due to the loss of capacity because of sedimentation.

In 2019, both the sale and purchase of electricity through the SIEPAC increased to 12.9 per cent and 13.5 per cent respectively. Guatemala was the largest seller, representing 58 per cent of the market and El Salvador the largest purchaser representing 68 per cent. The SIEPAC continues to expand however the Covid-19 crisis is affecting the regional market and limiting the transactions.

As at January 2020, the United States had issued three licenses for 2 GW of new pumped storage projects and another 22 GW had received preliminary permits. Although demand for storage is increasing, the primary obstacle for deployment of additional pumped storage hydropower is obtaining long term financing to cover high upfront capital costs. The Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office continues to see record funding levels for hydropower research and development, including US$70 million for marine energy and US$35 million for conventional hydropower.

In Canada, the most significant greenfield hydropower projects have a total installed capacity of almost 3,000 MW and include: Site C in British Columbia (1,100 MW, in-service by 2025); Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador (824 MW, in service by 2020); Keeyask in Manitoba (695 MW, in service in 2020); and La Romaine Complex Unit 4 in Quebec (245 MW in service in 2021).

Pumped storage hydro projects in development in Canada include five with a total installed capacity of up to 2,400 MW: TC Energy Pumped Storage Project (1,000 MW) and Marmora Pumped Storage Facility (400 MW) in Ontario; Brazeau Pumped Storage Hydro (300 – 900 MW) and Canyon Creek Project (75 MW) in Alberta; and Moon Lake Pumped Storage Hydro Project (25 MW) in British Columbia.

Several new transmission projects that would interconnect provinces with surplus hydroelectricity to those phasing out coal-fired electricity generation (and to territories seeking cleaner alternatives to diesel fuel in remote areas), continue to be studied. Additional transmission capacity to enable imports and exports to the United States is also under development and/or construction.

This regional profile is featured in the 2020 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report:

This profile was last updated in May 2020.

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