Perspectives: Making Progress

In June 2011, I participated in the HydroVision International 2012 Steering Committee Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky and the International Hydropower Association’s World Congress on Advancing Sustainable Hydropower in Iguassu, Brazil.

At both events, the mood was upbeat and celebratory. I’ve worked in the hydropower industry for more than 20 years; never before have I heard such optimism, confidence, and excitement!

I also observed significant progress in reaching out beyond the confines of the industry. Two examples:

Case 1

At the World Congress in Brazil, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol was launched. This protocol is a comprehensive tool to assess the sustainability of hydropower projects. It offers a consistent method of assessing sustainability, by evaluating social, economic, environmental, and technical performance. The protocol can be used during any stage of project development anywhere in the world — early stage, preparation, implementation, and operation.

Most impressive to me is the fact that the protocol was developed with input from nearly 2,000 stakeholders in 28 countries. These stakeholders work for public authorities, banks, environmental and social groups, and the hydropower industry. The members of the group that developed the protocol … representing social and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, commercial and development banks, and the hydropower sector … all have “skin in the game.” This makes the protocol much more than just an “industry” product. A council — with representation from the various groups that developed the protocol —has been set up to oversee its use.

Case 2

Two hydropower professionals from large utilities in Europe shared with me their experiences in working as authors of a report released in May 2011 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on “Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.” When the IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, there was great skepticism and negativity about hydro. In the beginning, some members of the IPCC working group focusing on the mitigation of climate change would not even consider hydro a renewable, and, if considered, would stipulate a certain size limit.

Now, more than a decade later, the 2011 report clearly recognizes hydro as one of six renewable energy technologies and defines hydropower projects as encompassing “dam projects with reservoirs, run-of-river and in-stream projects and cover a continuum in project scale.” The report also specifically references “storage-based hydropower” as a solution to maintaining transmission grid system reliability as the penetration of variable renewable energy sources increase.

The press release the IPCC issued about the report acknowledges hydro as the “largest renewable energy source in the electricity sector.”

Of course, challenges still exist. At the HydroVision International 2012 steering committee meeting, where 40 leaders from Austria, Canada, Norway, and the United States brainstormed topics to cover in next year’s conference program (July 17-20, 2012, in Louisville, Kentucky), there was discussion and debate about numerous concerns: project financing, policies for incentives, hydropower acceptability among stakeholders and regulators, competition with natural gas, safety of aging dams and other critical civil infrastructure, unproven technologies in the ocean/tidal/stream power sector, and the list goes on.

But one thing is clear. The leaders and decision-makers in this industry believe in hydropower, and they seem re-energized, refreshed, and re-invigorated like never before to face these challenges … to do all in their power to ensure that hydro is recognized as a key element in a clean energy future.

Marla J Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor


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