EME 444
Global Energy Enterprise

Global Hydropower and Sustainability


Global Trends

In the 2019 International Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration projects that most new hydroelectric development will take place in non-OECD countries. In their 2016 Hydropower Report, the International Hydropower Association identified the following key trends and developments driving this growth:

  • New international policy and agreements
  • Advanced hydropower control technologies enabling renewable hybrids
  • Climate aspects
  • The value of pumped storage being recognized worldwide
  • New financial instruments
  • Climate bonds attracting strong interest
  • Mergers and acquisitions pointing to a larger role for the private sector
  • The China sector going global
  • Transformative projects in Africa
  • Hydropower driving regional connection

To Read Now

The International Hydropower Association is an excellent resource for hydropower information. Keep in mind that they are an industry organization, so they promote the interests of the industry and tend to shall we say "look at the bright side" of hydropower. That stated, they are a good source of data, especially on the status of hydropower across the world.

Hydropower and Sustainability

The World Bank supports the "responsible development of hydropower projects of all sizes and types—run of the river, pumped storage, and reservoir—including off-grid projects meeting decentralized rural needs." In a world where more than a billion people lack access to electricity, and the quality of life it provides, hydropower has great promise, if done responsibly. However, as the World Bank points out in their Overview of hydropower: "While hydropower development offers great opportunities, it also comes with complex challenges and risks that vary significantly by the type, place, and scale of projects. Factors such as resettlement of communities, flooding of large areas of land, and significant changes to river ecosystems must be carefully considered and mitigated." All of these problems have arisen to varying degrees in projects across the world, so hydropwer should be deployed carefully if sustainability is one of the goals of the project.

In 2010, an international Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol was launched. According to the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol: "The Protocol was developed through 30 months (2008–10) of cross-sector engagement, including a review of the World Commission on Dams Recommendations, the World Bank Safe Guard Policies and the IFC Performance Standards. During this period, a multi-stakeholder forum jointly reviewed, enhanced, and built consensus on what a sustainable project should look like." This protocol involved "representatives of environmental NGOs (WWF, The Nature Conservancy), social NGOs (Oxfam, Transparency International), development banks, governments (China, Zambia, Iceland, Norway), and the hydropower sector."

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol addresses the three pillars of sustainability for hydropower: environmental, social, and economic. Environmental issues include those arising from hydropower construction and operation related to broad areas of water quality, sedimentation, and habitat. While hydropower has the potential to reduce poverty and improve quality of life, it can also be the cause of population displacement and other negative social impacts on local and indigenous communities. Hydropower can be a tool of economic development with many benefits for local communities, if (big IF), economic benefits are distributed equitably between "the government, the project proponents, and stakeholders who receive the electricity services and the local communities who bear the impacts of a development."

To Read Now

For an excellent discussion of river-related environmental factors, review the following. 

Optional Reading