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IHA reports: Invest in hydropower to tackle coronavirus and climate crisis impacts

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined hydropower’s resilience and critical role in delivering clean, reliable and affordable energy, especially in times of crisis. This is the conclusion of two new reports published by the International Hydropower Association (IHA).

The 2020 Hydropower Status Report presents the latest worldwide installed capacity and generation data, showcasing the hydro sector’s contribution to global carbon reduction efforts. It is published alongside a COVID-19 paper featuring recommendations for governments, financial institutions and industry to respond to the current health and economic crisis.

“Preventing an emergency is far better than responding to one,” says Roger Gill, president of IHA, highlighting the need to incentivize investments in renewable infrastructure. “The events of the past few months must be a catalyst for stronger climate action, including greater development of sustainable hydropower.”

Now in its seventh edition, the Hydropower Status Report shows electricity generation from hydropower hit a record 4,306 TWh in 2019, the single greatest contribution from a renewable energy source in history. The annual rise of 2.5% (106 TWh) in generation helped to avoid an estimated additional 80 million to 100 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases being emitted last year.

The report also highlights:

• Global hydropower installed capacity reached 1,308 GW in 2019, as 50 countries completed greenfield and upgrade projects, including pumped storage.

• A total of 15.6 GW in installed capacity was added in 2019, down on the 21.8 GW recorded in 2018. This represents a rise of 1.2%, which is below the estimated 2.0% growth rate required for the world to meet Paris Agreement carbon reduction targets.

• India has overtaken Japan as the fifth largest world hydropower producer, with its total installed capacity now standing at over 50 GW. The countries with the highest increases were Brazil (4.92 GW), China (4.17 GW) and Laos (1.89 GW).

• Hydropower’s flexibility services have been in high demand during the COVID-19 crisis, while plant operations have been less affected due to the degree of automation in modern facilities.

• Hydropower developments have not been immune to economic impacts however, with the industry facing widespread uncertainty and liquidity shortages that have put financing and refinancing of some projects at risk.

In a companion policy paper, IHA sets out the immediate impacts of the crisis on the sector, as well as recommendations to assist governments and financial institutions and enhance hydropower’s contribution to the recovery.

The recommendations include:

• Increasing the ambition of renewable energy and climate change targets, which incorporate the role of sustainable hydropower development.

• Supporting sustainable hydropower through introducing appropriate financial measures such as tax incentives to ensure viable and shovel-ready projects can commence.

• Fast-tracking planning approvals to ensure the development and modernization of hydropower projects can commence as soon as possible, in line with internationally recognized sustainability guidelines.

• Safeguarding investment by extending deadlines for concession agreements and other awarded projects.

• Given the increasing need for long-duration energy storage such as pumped storage, working with regulators and system operators to develop appropriate compensation mechanisms for hydropower’s flexibility services.