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IEA report plots a course for doubling hydroelectricity output by 2050

Its new report challenges the notion that the world's hydroelectric resources have peaked, instead claiming that emerging economies have significant potential to generate electricity from large hydro plants.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy also predict in their Technology Roadmap Hydropower report that a doubling in hydroelectricity production would lead to 2 000 GW of global hydropower capacity, with the technology potentially generating over 7 000 TWh by 2050.

The publication details action needed from policy makers to allow hydroelectric production to double, and addresses necessary conditions. The report also highlights the need to resolve environmental issues and gain public acceptance - something the International Hydropower Association has recently looked at too through its hydropower sustainability protocol.

“Hydroelectricity is a very cost-effective technology already,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Richard H. Jones at the launch of the report during the HYDRO 2012 conference in Bilbao. “However, new developments face tough financial challenges. Governments must create a favourable climate for industry investment when designing electricity markets.”

Albert Geber de Melo, General-Director of the Brazilian Electric Energy Research Centre (CEPEL), noted that in emerging economies and developing countries, “large and small hydropower projects can improve access to modern energy services, alleviate poverty and foster social and economic development, especially for local communities.”

Hydropower is the most mature renewable electricity generation technology worldwide, with new capacity additions since 2005 generating more electricity than all other renewables combined. Technology Roadmap Hydropower describes the sector's diversity, ranging from run-of-river to reservoir plants plus pumped-storage hydropower, and calls for a holistic approach to deployment that takes into account other aspects of water management.

Hydroelectricity's many advantages according to the report, include reliability, proven technology, large storage capacity, and very low operating and maintenance costs. Hydropower is a highly-flexible asset for electricity network operators, especially given rapid expansion of variable generation from other renewable energy technologies such as wind power and photovoltaics. Many hydropower plants also provide flood control, irrigation, navigation and freshwater supply.

In particular, the new report urges policy makers to:

  • Establish or update the inventory of hydropower potential, at river basin level where appropriate, including options to upgrade existing plants or add hydropower units to dams originally developed for other purposes;
  • Set hydropower development plans with targets, and develop a policy framework and market design for projects;
  • Ensure that developers and operators document their approach to sustainability, such as filing environmental assessment reports or adopting voluntary protocols;
  • Include the financing of hydropower on governments' policy agendas and develop new public risk-mitigating financial instruments, especially for developing countries.

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