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World Hydropower Congress kicks off with strong message of a systems approach to a low-carbon economy

The International Hydropower Association’s World Hydropower Congress kicked off in Paris on Tuesday, May 14, with many of the plenary speakers discussing how hydro fits in a systems approach to a low-carbon economy.

In a shift of focus from the messages heard at the World Hydropower Congress even as recently as two years ago – in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – this year’s Congress has so far featured significant discussion of climate change, the need to add renewable generation capacity, and how hydropower can support growing intermittent renewables (wind and solar).

Recognizing the global contribution of hydroelectricity to total electricity supply – at about 17% of all electricity and about 70% of renewable generation – speakers representing associations, businesses, government and the civil sector shared their views on hydro’s overall role as the world moves toward the goals in the Paris Climate Accord.

 “One of the big stories coming out of this conference is hearing governments making big step changes to get to 100% electrification,” said Roger Gill, vice president of IHA. “Politically it’s hard to make that happen in your country.”

In needed shows of support for hydropower, International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said, “The voice of hydropower is not heard as strongly as it deserves.” And EDF Group Chief Executive Officer Jean-Bernard Levy said, “We believe more than ever that hydro is the energy of the future.”

Even Ukranian singer Ruslana Lyzhychko shared her support and enthusiasm for hydro as part of a strategy to move to 100% clean energy.

Another significant topic of discussion has been pumped storage hydropower, or a “water battery” as it is called in Australia, where development of pumped storage is a strong priority.

Gill agreed this is another change of focus. “Four years ago you wouldn’t have heard anybody say pumped water batteries are the next big thing,” he said. “To be talking about pumped hydro in an arid place like Australia, and we’ve got billions going into pumped storage, it’s a completely different arena.”

This year’s congress has brought together about 750 delegates from more than 70 countries, with more than 200 speakers and 37 educational sessions over three days.