What Next for Hydropower?

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

The turning of another year is always a great time for review and reflection, both on the 12 months just passed and the opportunities and challenges that are likely to emerge in the coming year.

Looking back on 2011, it is clear that a significant shift has taken place in the perception of hydropower and its role in the development of a low-carbon energy sector. Much of this changing perception comes from the advantages that hydro intrinsically possesses in terms of its ability to manage variable output from a growing proportion of other types of renewable energy technology, such as wind and solar. Indeed, even a recent and highly critical report on renewable energy released by the UK’s Adam Smith Institute and Scientific Alliance, “Renewable Energy: Vision or Mirage,” acknowledges that hydropower is one of a few notable exceptions where available renewable power technologies are both economically competitive and easily capable of providing the degree of energy security demanded by a developed society.

And, for example, pumped storage development in Europe is gaining momentum as new projects are developed and existing facilities repowered or repurposed. It seems clear that the growing demand for low-carbon generation is, if anything, likely to gather pace, and for the hydropower sector this is being manifested in a number of ways. In Russia and the Caucasus, for instance, there is a major program of refurbishment and rehabilitation under way that will effectively boost hydro capacity and dam safety by more effectively and efficiently utilizing existing resources and assets. See our cover story on page 22 for more details.

In the less-developed regions of Latin America, Africa and Asia, it is new development that continues to sustain this industry as a major force for good in the lives of millions currently without access to basic and reliable electricity supplies. And in these regions it is encouraging that we see many new hydro developments under way. In this edition, see our feature on India’s Subansiri project (page 14) as an example.

But it is not just external policy drivers that are pushing the hydropower sector forward. The industry has also been working hard on changing largely unwarranted perceptions that new hydro development is extremely damaging to the environment. For example, in 2011, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) released its Sustainability Assessment Protocol in a bid to establish some clear guidelines that will ensure hydropower developments meet the highest standards in terms of their environmental performance. It is these types of industry-led initiatives that are now seeing the large institutional investors and bodies, such as the World Bank, re-engaging with hydro and providing the funding necessary for development.

So, as we enter 2012, we have to consider that the global hydropower sector is looking perhaps healthier than it has done for decades, and this is based on three major drivers: low-carbon energy policy and the growing demands of variable renewable resources; a changing perception of hydropower sustainability, suitability and its place as a key element of the energy sector of tomorrow; and the reengagement of investors and developers. It’s a great time to be in hydro.

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