The North American Hydropower Opportunity

It is no secret that many renewable energy advocates are not in favor of large hydropower. The methods that have been used in the past to create its enormous energy generating facilities were sometimes destructive to the environment, flooding forests, destroying animal habitats and harming ecosystems.  The dams were often blamed for decreasing fish populations and interrupting the natural lifecycle of rivers.  Hydropower has even been accused of causing the extinction of some animal species.

However, there exists a threat that is even more worrisome to endangered species, a threat that has the potential to cause destructive flooding and destroy ecosystems: climate change.  While scientists explain that they may never be able to point to one devastating incident as a direct result of our changing climate, we can all agree that the weather events we have seen over the past year, like hurricane Sandy and the recent flooding in Colorado, have caused more destruction than weather events have ever caused in the past.

Perhaps that’s why in May of this year, the World Bank reversed its stance on large-scale hydropower. Whereas the major international development bank was once a staunch opponent of large-scale hydro, recognition that developing regions like Africa and Southeast Asia desperately need power have forced it to reconsider.  The world needs energy to lift people out of poverty and building more fossil fuel-fired electricity plants will only serve to exacerbate the problems already associated with climate change. Hydropower is an answer.

Further, hydropower technology has come a long way in terms of mitigating some of its deleterious effects on the environment.  Environmental group American Rivers highlights some excellent examples of hydropower success stories in the video below. 

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Maybe it is time for the renewable energy industry to take a second look at hydropower development. The clean energy it can provide is a vast improvement over the dirty energy we get from fossil fuels. Hydropower already meets about 8 percent of U.S. electricity demand and with improved technologies that already exist the National Hydropower Association (NHA) estimates that we can double the amount of energy we get from hydropower without building any more dams.

If you’re interested in exploring this issue with me, check out our upcoming webcast, “The Hydropower Opportunity,” taking place next Wednesday, September 25. Linda Church-Ciocci, Executive Director of the NHA will be presenting along with Stanley Kocon from Voith Hydro and Juan Hinojosa from Strategies 360. You can register to attend here. 

Hydropower is a clean energy resource that we know we can do right. Let’s explore the hydropower opportunities that exist in North America. 

Lead image: Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, NV via Shutterstock


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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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