Global hydro capacity needs to double by 2050 if water-based power is to make a meaningful contribution in the race to net zero, IRENA director-general Francesco La Camera has warned
Speaking at a meeting of IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower, he said that hydro expansion needs to accelerate if the Paris Agreement goals are to be achieved.
Hydropower is the largest source of renewable electricity worldwide and advancing its deployment is essential in driving the energy transition forward.
“We have to urgently step up action on all fronts of the energy transition to achieve the climate and sustainable development goals. Hydropower has a key role to play, enabling the integration of increasingly large shares of variable renewables and providing climate resilience,” La Camera said.
IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook said recently that a climate-safe 1.5C pathway would require 2,900 GW of installed hydropower capacity by 2050 – more than double [the figure] of the installed capacity today,”
La Camera was speaking on the sidelines of the World Hydropower Congress in Costa Rica.
“The need for long-duration energy storage is the ignored technological crisis within the climate crisis. The only proved low-carbon technology for storing electricity for longer periods is hydropower. We need substantially more wind, solar and hydropower,” former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
Meanwhile, the US also committed itself to being a major player in developing hydro.
"We have a goal of reaching a fully decarbonised power sector by 2035," said Alejandro Moreno, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power, US Department of Energy (DoE).
Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association chief executive Eddie Rich stressed the green and sustainable credentials of hydro.
"Sustainable hydropower is a clean, green, modern and affordable solution to climate change" and "going forward, the only acceptable form of hydropower is sustainable hydropower."
This highlights that not all hydro is currently regarded as renewable forms of generation energy and there are considerable doubts about the sustainability of hydro in the long run.
The IEA has said that hydro risks being the forgotten giant of the energy transition, warning that the pace of development in the hydro sector had slowed and would continue to do so over the next decade.
Hydropower plants (HPPs) with over 50 MW of capacity, particularly if they feature associated dams and reservoirs, are not regarded as green, given the high environmental and social impact of their construction.
But installations under 50 MW are seen as sustainable and having far less impact on the environment.
Another major issue is that the global hydro fleet is ageing fast, and huge investment is needed to keep large hydro projects running.
Indeed, the meeting understands that the most pressing needs for hydropower include the need to ensure sustainability, to quickly secure large investments to deploy new capacity and refurbish a large share of today’s ageing fleet.
Executives also called for new business models and market frameworks that adequately reward the full range of services provided by hydropower beyond power generation.
Looking ahead, hydro can act as a fundamental pillar of the clean energy transition and could be critical to the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s goals.
Hydro is of particular interest to Africa and Latin Americas, and officials from the African Union, the Latin American Energy Organisation, the US DoE and the World Bank were present at the meeting.
The hydro industry has adopted the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower to ensure that hydro stays renewable and is able to play its part in the energy transition.