IRENA members commit to advance the global hydropower fleet

Hydropower project

Members of the International Renewable Energy Agency and private sector representatives are joining forces to modernize and refurbish the existing hydropower fleet around the globe. This is one of the results of the third meeting of the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower organized by IRENA, which aims to expand collaboration and action between the agency’s global membership on the continued deployment of hydropower technologies.

Over 100 participants from 50 countries attended the gathering virtually.

“Hydropower will be a critical element for decarbonising energy systems,” said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera, highlighting the role of hydropower as clean electricity as well as flexibility provider for the integration of high shares of variable renewables. While hydropower has been a source of baseload generation traditionally, it is increasingly used as peaking capacity and source for flexible generation and energy services, water management and socioeconomic benefits.

With 43%, hydropower accounts for the largest share of installed renewable capacity, according to IRENA’s latest data. Although a large number of hydropower projects are in the pipeline, the global hydropower fleet is aging and a considerable amount of capacity is due for retirement or in need of refurbishment. About 50% of hydro installed capacity is older than 30 years. IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook suggests that global hydropower capacity will need to more than double by 2050 if the climate goal of 1.5° C under the Paris Agreement is to be achieved.

“There is no excuse in 2021 anymore for no good environmental practices in the hydropower sector,” said Eddie Rich, chief executive officer of the International Hydropower Association (IHA). To drive the global hydropower agenda, IHA has initiated the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower, to be endorsed by the World Hydropower Congress in September and presented to COP26 in Glasgow in November. “The Declaration will seek to place sustainable hydropower as an essential element in tackling climate change, being clear that good sustainability practice should be a minimum expectation for the future,” Rich added.

The need to urgently add hydropower capacity brings challenges such as unlocking the necessary investments, financial viability through fair markets and remuneration, the need to ensure sustainability, the need for innovations in technology, markets and business models, efficiency improvements, as well as more integrated planning. To close the gaps in global hydropower, the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower will identify “champion” countries taking the lead on key hydropower-related topics and help prepare the World Hydropower Congress.

China, Indonesia, Turkey, the U.S. and Uruguay shared their experiences and recommendations on the topics mentioned above during the Collaborative Framework. “Champion” countries will now take the thematic workplans forward. The next Collaborative Framework is scheduled as a high-level meeting at the World Hydropower Congress.

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