Hydropower — leading global renewable energy capacity growth

New and authoritative figures from the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report 2015 indicate some 37 GW of new hydropower capacity was commissioned in 2014, increasing total global capacity by 3.6%.

Indeed, hydropower forms one of a troika of technologies – the other two being wind and solar power — which have dominated new additions of renewable energy generating capacity over the last year.

Globally, total installed hydropower broke 1,055 GW while worldwide hydro generation – which naturally varies each year with hydrological conditions – was estimated at 3,900 TWh in 2014, an increase of more than 3% on 2013 figures.

And the top countries for hydropower capacity and generation remained China, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Russia, and India, which together accounted for about 60% of global installed capacity at the end of 2014.

Of these, China alone commissioned almost 22 GW over the year, bringing its total installed capacity to 280 GW, but — striking as this figure is, the country’s new capacity additions were in fact down 29% relative to 2013. Accordingly, investment in the country’s hydropower infrastructure was $15.6 billion on the year, down 21.5% from 2013 figures.

Nonetheless, hydropower generation in China increased by almost 20% – exceeding 1000 TWh of production over the year for the first time. While better hydrological conditions have helped, both the 13 GW + Xiluodu plant and the 6.4 GW Xiangjiaba plant were completed in 2014.

While hydropower generation recovered significantly in China during 2014 following a drop in 2013, it declined in many countries due to droughts.

Brazil, for example, added 3.3 GW in 2014, including 138 MW of small-scale hydro for a year-end total of 89.2 GW. However, less favourable drought conditions saw Brazil’s hydropower contribution drop from 91% of the total in 2011 to 73% in 2014. Another country where hydropower generation has suffered due to drought is the United States. In 2014, it experienced its third consecutive year of decline in output, with generation of 259 TWh and a drop of 5.3% relative to the annual average over the preceding nine years.

Similarly, Turkey added 1.35 GW of hydropower capacity in 2014 bringing its total to 23.6 GW. However, hydropower generated 40.1 TWh during the year, representing a 32% decline from 2013, and the result of drought in recent years.

It seems the growing influence of hydropower — alongside the capacity additions listed above, global pumped storage capacity was estimated to be as high as 146 GW at year’s end, with as much as 2.4 GW of capacity added in 2014 — is being tempered by adverse hydrological conditions which may curtail its potential overall impact.

However, while 2014 total capacity increased by 3.6% and hydropower output increased by slightly less at 3.0%, the case for hydropower investment remains undiminished when considering the load factor of even a drought hit hydropower project when compared with a project using wind or solar power.

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David Appleyard formerly was the Chief Editor, HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide.

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