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“Hydropower can bring important synergies to the energy system of the future”

The International Renewable Energy Agency has released its first Global Renewables Outlook, which shows the path to create a sustainable future energy system. This report highlights climate-safe investment options until 2050, the policy framework needed for the transition and the challenges faced by different regions.

This analysis outlines the investments and technologies needed to decarbonize the energy system in line with the Paris Agreement. It also explores deeper decarbonization options for the hardest sectors, aiming to eventually cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to zero.

Raising regional and country-level ambitions will be crucial to meet interlinked energy and climate objectives. Comprehensive policies could tackle energy and climate goals alongside socioeconomic challenges, fostering the transformative decarbonization of societies.

Among other findings:

  • Energy-related COemissions have risen by 1% per year on average since 2010. While the health crisis and oil price slump may suppress emissions in 2020, a rebound would restore the long-term trend.
  • The transition to renewables, efficiency and electrification can drive broad socioeconomic development. The outlook’s Transforming Energy Scenario aligns energy investments with the need to keep global warming “well below 2oC,” in line with the Paris Agreement.
  • The last portion of CO2 emissions will be the hardest and most expensive to eliminate. The outlook’s Deeper Decarbonisation Perspective highlights the need for innovative technologies, business models and behavioral adaptation to reach zero emissions.
  • Decarbonizing energy use in time to avert catastrophic climate change requires intensified international co-operation. With the need for emission reductions unchanged, clean energy investments can safeguard against short-sighted decisions and the accumulation of stranded assets.
  • Recovery measures after the COVID-19 pandemic could include flexible power grids, efficiency solutions, electric vehicle charging, energy storage, interconnected hydropower, green hydrogen and other technology investments consistent with long-term energy and climate sustainability.

The report says: “Hydropower, bioenergy, solar thermal and geothermal renewable energy all have significant scale-up potential and represent over one-quarter of the mitigation potential in the Transforming Energy Scenario. Two technologies that can play particularly important roles are hydropower and bioenergy.”

Specific to hydropower: “Hydropower can bring important synergies to the energy system of the future. In the Transforming Energy Scenario, hydropower capacity would need to increase 25% by 2030, and 60% by 2050, while pumped hydro storage capacity would need to double. When including both types of hydropower, around 850 GW of newly installed capacity is required in the next 30 years – or roughly adding the entire power system capacity of the European Union in 2020. The synergies between hydropower and other renewable energy technologies in power system operation include the cost effectiveness of using hydropower to counteract the short-term variability of wind and solar generation, and seasonal complementarities in resource patterns. Multipurpose hydropower infrastructure also can provide co-benefits such as regulating river flows and reducing flooding.

“Increasing hydropower capacity does not specifically entail only building new dams: options also exist to upgrade turbines and systems in existing plants, utilise run-of-river designs and electrify non-power dams. Yet for new hydropower plants, planners need to consider local environmental impacts, and engage in discussions with communities in the impacted areas. Hydropower plants will also need operational changes that reflect changing power system needs, including faster and more frequent ramping, and planning practices that include evaluating the impacts of climate change on water supply and reservoir storage requirements. … For existing dams, investments are needed to modernise old hydro plants.”

IRENA says it serves as a platform for international co-operation; a center of excellence; a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge; and a driver of action on the ground to advance the transformation of the global energy system. An intergovernmental organization established in 2011, IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy.