Perspectives: Hydro on the World Stage

Several times during the recent 21st World Energy Congress, I wanted to jump up and applaud. At last! Hydro was being recognized as an important part of the solution to a clean energy future.

While such a concept may seem simple and straightforward, in the world of energy policy makers, that is not always the case. During past World Energy Congresses (held every three years), hydro has, at best, been ignored, and, at worst, been criticized for being environmentally damaging or “tapped out.”

Not so at this Congress. Hydro was often front and center in discussions about energy accessibility, availability, acceptability, and accountability as nearly 6,500 participants … including 300 high-caliber speakers and 70 energy ministers … gathered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in September 2010.

Cases in point:

Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec, in his message to Congress participants, focused on the province’s leadership in hydroelectric development: “Today, 97% of all the electricity produced in Quebec comes from clean, renewable sources, and we rank third in the world in this respect. Quebec has recently begun to develop hydroelectric and wind energy projects that will generate investments of $50 billion.” Premier Charest says Quebec is “satisfying the growing energy needs of North America and making a positive contribution to the fight against climate change” … in large part, because of hydropower.

Pierre Duhaime, President and Chief Executive Officer, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., Canada, in a session focusing on sustainable energy solutions led by Canada’s Minister of the Environment, unabashedly reminded the audience that “hydropower IS a renewable” and has an important role to play in providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people who currently do not have access.

Patrick Kron, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Alstom, headquartered in France, described pumped storage as “the only large-scale storage technology” and told attendees during a high-level roundtable discussion in which energy executives from throughout the world shared their views about the future global energy mix to “expect growth in pumped storage.” In the exhibit hall, Alstom was showing a 3-D movie – complete with the glasses! – about how pumped-storage technology works!

Jose Antonio Muniz Lopes, President, Eletrobras, Brazil, says his company – the largest electric power company in Latin America – operates 40,000 MW of electrical capacity, much of which is hydro … and is constructing more. “We want every Brazilian to have access to electricity” and we’re doing that with hydropower. President Muniz Lopes says Eletrobras is expanding beyond Brazil, working with other countries in Latin America … and eventually in North America and Africa … to use clean hydropower instead of polluting and expensive diesel- and oil-based fuels.

So, what was different about this Congress? Of course, the location of the Congress – Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where hydro provides virtually all the electrical power generation – undoubtedly helped raise hydro’s profile. However, more fundamentally, I think common sense prevailed.

If the energy industry … and society … is serious about balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship, it simply makes sense to use hydropower. And, that kind of thinking is worth applause!

Marla J Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor



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