10 moments that shaped the future of sustainable hydropower in 2022
Eddie Rich CEO of the International Hydropower Association signs off the year with a gift blog for the sustainable hydropower community.
As we look back on a year that has seen an intensification of global challenges, it is clear that climate change is still the biggest threat facing the planet. But while progress is falling short of what is needed to achieve net zero, a series of step-change moments show that we are beginning to see the green shoots of, and opportunities for, a sustainable hydropower renaissance. The sustainable hydropower sector is primed to play a crucial role in fighting climate change in 2023 and beyond.
1. New financial mechanisms and policy announcements
Governments are starting to wake up to the ignored crisis within the crisis. As renewable energy technologies become increasingly cheaper in comparison to fossil fuels, we are seeing a gradual shift in the conversation to focus on how we can ensure that future energy systems are reliable.
In New South Wales in Australia, a $44.8 million funding package was announced in September 2022 to unlock the development of five new pumped storage hydropower projects. With a combined capacity of nearly 1.75 GW, these projects will provide much needed long-duration energy storage to stabilise grids in the state as coal-fired power plants are phased out.
Just a month later, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced an ambitious plan to develop the world’s largest pumped storage hydropower project, which is set to provide 5 GW of installed capacity and 24-hour storage to the state grid.
Elsewhere, Indonesia is advancing a strategy to phase out coal by 2056 that places hydropower at the core of its future national economic growth. To accelerate progress, the Indonesian government announced a new pricing system in September 2022 to encourage investment in hydropower, solar and geothermal energy.
At a meeting with global finance leaders in Washington earlier this year, including the President of the World Bank, the crucial role of pumped storage hydropower in accelerating decarbonisation was front and centre.
Meanwhile, the emergence of new partnerships, such as IHA’s cooperation agreement with the Commonwealth Secretariat announced in May 2022, is providing ever-stronger foundations for enacting the policy environments needed to spur sustainable hydropower growth.
2. New data highlights need for accelerated hydropower growth
Although we are seeing some promising signs, the publication of the 2022 Hydropower Status Report in July provided a reality check. With 26 GW of installed hydropower capacity coming online in 2021, and just 22 GW on average over the last five years, hydropower development is falling well short of the 45 GW per year that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates is required to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C.
Furthermore, around 80% of new hydropower capacity put into operation last year was in China alone. Other countries need to follow suit and prioritise hydropower development if we are serious about tackling climate change.
The opportunities are right in front of us. Huge untapped potential exists in many regions across the world, particularly Africa and Asia, while we can also make the most of our existing hydropower fleet through modernisation and retrofitting. All that is missing is the political will to make it happen.
3. Widespread drought underscores the need for more hydropower
If policy makers ever needed to be reminded that climate change is already having a grievous impact, they only need to look at the extreme weather we have seen across many regions of the world in 2022.
Widespread drought in Europe, China and North America has placed significant stress on energy systems. Some reports implied that reliance on hydropower was a problem, whereas in fact, the countries that did best where those who had sufficient hydropower facilities. Hydropower is part of the solution to both limiting climate change and mitigating its effects. It is the only energy source that provides additional services such as flood control, drought mitigation and irrigation, all of which will be increasingly important in the years to come.
In south-west China, hydropower has been placed firmly at the centre of the strategy to curb and manage extreme weather events. We need to see similar action from governments elsewhere.
IHA has been busy this year discussing this issue with journalists. Articles like this recent one in The Economist, informed by a briefing provided by IHA’s Head of Research and Policy, Alex Campbell, are bringing much needed balance and depth to the conversation.
4. New alliance marks closer cooperation among renewables
The need for renewables to work together has never been more important. We can only deliver the clean energy transition through collaboration between our communities; no single energy source can resolve our climate challenges alone.
I have been greatly encouraged by the strong bonds that are forming between the representatives of renewable technologies. IHA is proud to be a founding member of the new Global Renewables Alliance, which was unveiled at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh last month.
This alliance provides a mechanism to collaborate on accelerating the clean energy transition, and to hold decision-makers to account that their promises are delivered and targets are met.
The renewables have never been closer than we are today, and this development couldn’t have come at a timelier moment.
5. New global commission calls for accelerated project approvals
One of the biggest roadblocks to hydropower development is the significant time that projects can take from inception to completion. It is not unusual for a hydropower plant to take more than five years to be approved, and then, once green-lit, to take a further ten years to be brought into operation.
There is much that governments can do to address this without cutting any corners. With the streamlining of permitting and approval processes, projects could be delivered years ahead of time, accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels.
Against this backdrop, IHA is taking a lead role in the Planning for Climate Commission, which was launched at COP27 to speed up planning and approvals for renewable energy projects.
The Commission brings together renewable energy organisations as well as influential voices and experts in the spheres of climate and renewable energy policymaking.
6. #WithHydropower campaign driving public awareness
The task of reaching net zero by 2050 is not one that requires new innovations; it is within our grasp using established technologies already available to us. However, net zero will be a fantasy unless we look towards the complementary strengths of various renewable sources.
That’s why we brought together a coalition of progressive hydropower organisations and associations around the world to launch the ‘We can, with hydropower’ campaign in March 2022.
The #WithHydropower campaign provides an ongoing platform to shine a light on the many ways that hydropower can contribute to building a sustainable and secure energy future. Find out how you can get involved in 2023 at hydropower.org/WeCan.
7. First Global Hydropower Day is celebrated around the world
Hydropower has a long history of enabling major advancements in human development around the world, and it’s something we don’t often take time to recognise. That's why the world’s first Global Hydropower Day on Tuesday 11 October 2022 was a significant landmark in the calendar this year.
Themed on the benefits of hydropower to people and communities, the day saw thousands of people worldwide joining the conversation on social media and telling their stories. You can still see the footprint of this mass moment by heading over to Twitter or LinkedIn and looking up the #GlobalHydropowerDay hashtag.
Our partners across the world amplified the message by holding special events, creating videos, writing articles, participating in interviews and mobilising their teams. It was inspiring to see, and it has brought new energy to the #WithHydropower campaign.
To see some of this year’s highlights, and to stay informed about our plans for next year, visit hydropower.org/globalday.
8. COP27 falls short of progress needed for net zero
Since the historic commitment in Glasgow a year earlier to phase down coal, we have seen little action from governments to turn net zero ambition into action. COP27 offered limited progress, with the establishment of a ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ barely scratching the surface of what is needed.
I still take encouragement from actions being taken by many progressive companies in attendance at Sharm el-Sheikh, and the urgency being shown by hydropower-rich countries like Australia, China, Canada, Mozambique, Tajikistan and the US. But this needs to be matched by action from financial institutions to incentivise sustainable hydropower development.
We must look to the opportunities as we chart a pathway to COP28. Our new renewables alliance provides a platform to speak louder about the policies, mechanisms and processes needed to unlock the barriers to hydropower development.
9. UNESCO issues new guidance on World Heritage Sites no-go commitment, backed by the sustainable hydropower sector
When the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower was issued at the close of the 2021 World Hydropower Congress, providing a new blueprint for sustainable hydropower. Central to the declaration was an unprecedented commitment from the sustainable hydropower sector that new projects should not be developed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Earlier this month, UNESCO released new guidance on the no-go commitment in World Heritage Sites, featuring a seven-step strategy for companies to ensure their safeguarding and preservation.
One year on from our original commitment, IHA saw this as a moment to re-issue our call for hydropower companies worldwide to adopt the no-go commitment in World Heritage Sites.
Sustainable hydropower will be vital to addressing global climate goals in the years ahead; but it must be done in the right way.
10. The world's first Hydropower Sustainability Standard assessment opens for consultation
The conclusion of 2022 is marked by the first Hydropower Sustainability Standard assessment of a project opening for public consultation.
The Sebzor hydropower project in Tajikistan, operated by Pamir Energy, has been assessed by independent auditors, and now enters a 60-day period when stakeholders around the world are invited to give feedback. At the culmination of this process, the project is on track to become the world’s first project certified by the Standard.
With several further projects at various stages of assessment, we expect a series of certifications using the Hydropower Sustainability Standard in 2023.
We are already seeing the Standard play an influential role in how other sectors are standardising sustainability practices. For example, the new Global Green Hydrogen Standard draws heavily on the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.
As a universal reference for international best practice in hydropower sustainability, the Standard – which is governed by a multi-stakeholder body – provides a vital way to demonstrate to governments that hydropower can be delivered sustainably. Its uptake by the sector and recognition by policymakers will be fundamental to our progress towards net zero in 2023 and beyond.
We need to keep the conversation going
As the end of the year fast approaches, its important that we keep this momentum going. 2022 has been a year marked by collaboration, and I’d like to thank our friends in the hydropower sector and beyond for helping the ‘forgotten giant’ of clean energy generation get the acknowledgement it deserves.
I'm looking forward to further collaboration with all of our friends in 2023.
Best wishes for the festive period!