Globally, hydropower has the theoretical potential to provide nearly a third of the annual global energy requirement. This is one finding of a research project performed at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and published in the journal PLOS One.
The researchers say, “This study is the first to formally present a detailed evaluation of the hydropower potential of each location, based on slope and discharge of each river in the world.”
They concluded that the gross theoretical hydropower potential is about 52 PWh annually divided over 11.8 million locations. This 52 PWh is equal to nearly a third of the annually required energy of 164 PWh in 2011, while the present energy production by hydropower plants is just 3% of the annually required energy, the researchers say.
The scientists do say that “many of the locations cannot be developed for (current) technical or economic reasons.”
The study says the greatest contributor is Asia, which represents 48% of the global hydropower potential. The top 5 countries with the greatest hydropower potential annually were China at 7,168 TWh, Brazil at 3,630 TWh, Russia at 3,503 TWh, Canada at 3,064 TWh and the U.S. at 2,564 TWh.
Products of this research that are available free to interested parties are a raster file with all rivers and a point file with all potential hydropower locations.
The point file contains 11.8 million locations with annual potential of 8.76 MWh to 92 TWh. About 4,800 locations show annual potential of more than 1 TWh, about 30% of which are located at existing hydropower plants.
Researchers say the “more exciting and promising” are locations that don’t have hydropower facilities, such as the Salween Basin, with 29,600 locations and a gross annual potential of 981 TWh.
Although the researchers do not provide any concrete directions for future development of this potential, they do say, “Due to the existing trend of depleting oil and gas resources, and the desire to reduce CO2 emissions, we postulate that even locations that are currently not considered economically feasible, will, in the nearby future, expand hydropower production.”