Viewpoint: A Glimpse of Hydro’s Future

In just five years, hydro under development worldwide has about doubled. The number of projects, total number of megawatts being developed, and dollar volume of work have all doubled. Perhaps even more important is that hydro’s future outlook is strong: The inventory of proposed projects has kept pace and doubled as well.

Today’s robust demand for hydro is driven by the widespread recognition — and, to some extent, rediscovery — of hydro’s long-term economic advantages and other valuable, though less tangible, benefits. Key among hydro’s benefits are its inherent qualities of being clean, secure, and domestically-produced. Especially important today is that energy supplied from hydro is shielded from the price volatility and supply interruptions that can — and do — affect international markets.

Each year at HCI Publications (publisher of HRW), we take stock of hydro-related business activity both by making both backward-looking examinations of what actually has happened and by taking a future-oriented view of what seems likely to happen. The data for these annual assessments are published in our Vantage Point reports; the most recent is Vantage Point: Worldwide Hydro 2008. For the backward look, the reports take stock of the issuance of tenders, contract awards, and hydro asset sales. For the look ahead, the reports include a project “watch” list. This list identifies developments that — while they have not yet reached the stage of design or construction — are beginning to give off “rumbles.”

The watch list offers a glimpse of hydro’s future; the 2008 list includes more than 170 developments. The capacities of these prospective developments range from 400 kw to 20,000 mw(!). For the 151 developments where capacities are declared (a total of more than 120,000 mw):

  • Combined capacity of the 10 largest developments is 68,645 mw (average: 6,864.5 mw).
  • 25 developments have capacities of 1,000 mw or greater.
  • Average capacity is 795 mw.
  • Median capacity is 182 mw.
  • Combined capacity of the 10 smallest conventional hydro developments is 53 mw (average: 5.3 mw).


With some exceptions, larger developments are located in the southern hemisphere — i.e., Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Smaller developments are spread around the world.

The watch list reveals a strong backlog of projects moving toward the mainstream. This, of course, is good news for the hydro industry. Perhaps even more important is that this backlog anticipates that, in future years, additional quantities of clean, affordable electricity will become available to serve the needs and improve the lives of millions of the world’s citizens.


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