Hydropower: The Unsung Hero in the Green Energy Landscape

Hydropower: The Unsung Hero in the Green Energy Landscape

As the world grapples with the escalating climate crisis, embracing renewable energy sources has become a critical necessity. A forerunner in the renewable energy marathon is hydropower, an ancient technology with enormous potential for the future. From its historical roots to its modern applications, hydropower is paving the way for a sustainable, low-carbon energy future.


The Power of Water: A Brief Historical Overview

Hydropower, the process of harnessing energy from moving water, has been instrumental in human civilizations for over 2000 years. The ancient Greeks leveraged the power of flowing rivers to drive wooden wheels for grinding grain. Today, in our technologically advanced era, we’re using the same principle, but with greater sophistication and efficiency.

Hydropower plants, equipped with propeller-like devices called turbines, generate electricity as water rushes through them. Despite the evolution of technology, the fundamental concept remains the same: tapping into the kinetic energy of water to create electricity.


Hydropower Today: The Largest Source of Renewable Energy

In the current energy landscape, hydropower plays a pivotal role, contributing about 16% of global electricity generation3. It’s the single largest source of low-carbon power, surpassing all other renewables combined. As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), global hydropower capacity is projected to grow by 17% between 2021 and 2030.

Hydropower’s significant contribution to electricity supply isn’t just about numbers. It’s about the unparalleled flexibility and storage capabilities it provides. Many hydropower plants can quickly adjust their electricity generation, making them an ideal foundation for integrating greater amounts of wind and solar power.


The Role of Hydropower in Achieving Net-Zero Goals

As the international community strives to reach net-zero emissions, hydropower is emerging as a critical player. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol aptly refers to hydropower as “the forgotten giant of clean electricity” that needs to be put back on the energy and climate agenda.

Hydropower’s ability to provide valuable scale and flexibility helps electricity systems adjust quickly to shifts in demand and supply. This makes it an integral part of the energy transition, especially for countries aiming for higher shares of solar and wind power.

However, to fully leverage hydropower’s potential, it’s crucial to address the challenges that hinder its rapid deployment. These include long lead times, lengthy permitting processes, high costs linked to environmental assessments, and opposition from local communities. Overcoming these hurdles will require strong policy actions and long-term financial viability to make hydropower projects attractive to investors.


The Green Giant: Environmental Benefits of Hydropower

Hydropower isn’t just about electricity generation; it’s a technology intertwined with environmental responsibility. Unlike fossil fuel-driven facilities, hydropower plants don’t emit harmful gases that contribute to air pollution, global warming, and acid rain.

Moreover, many hydropower plants are located in the headwaters of river basins, helping control water flow fluctuations. By increasing water flow during dry months, these projects enhance aquatic habitats.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that while hydropower is environmentally friendly, it’s not without impacts. Hydropower projects can change the natural river environment, often necessitating careful planning and mitigation measures to prevent harm to local ecosystems


Hydropower: The Key to Large-Scale Energy Storage

Among the various forms of hydropower, pumped storage hydropower is gaining recognition as the most sustainable renewable energy technology for large-scale energy storage. These facilities, also known as “water batteries,” can hold vast amounts of renewable energy for months at a time.

Given the intermittent nature of other renewable sources like solar and wind, the ability to store excess energy is crucial. Pumped storage hydropower facilities can meet demand when these sources are unavailable, making them an essential part of a reliable and resilient energy system


The Future of Hydropower: Charting a Sustainable Path

The future of hydropower lies in sustainable development. This involves ensuring that hydropower projects are developed and operated responsibly, adhering to rigorous sustainability standards.

One such initiative is the Hydropower Sustainability Alliance (HAS), which aims to enhance transparency and trust through a robust Hydropower Sustainability Standard. This standard combines efforts from both public and private sectors to certify sustainability, fostering mutual understanding between civil society and hydropower developers


The Time is Now: Accelerating Hydropower Deployment

As we stand at the crossroads of a global energy transition, it’s time to accelerate the deployment of hydropower. This requires a concerted effort from policymakers, industry players, and local communities alike.

The road ahead isn’t without challenges, but with the right strategies in place, hydropower can play a significant role in shaping a sustainable energy future. As the world races against time to combat climate change, the age-old power of water might just be our best bet.