2012 hydroelectric power year in review

The past year has been an exciting one for the hydropower community as hydroelectricity continues to become an increasingly more popular consideration in renewable energy strategies.

Speaking at the National Hydropower Association’s annual conference in April, NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said, “hydropower has a tremendous future”, and that it is the “foundation on which our clean energy future rests”.

And though Ciocci was referring to hydropower development within the United States, her words are applicable across the world as discussion, legislation and action clearly indicate a global resurgence in hydroelectric development.

Listed here are some of the most significant hydro stories of the past year, as selected by the editors of HydroWorld.com.

North America

Uncertainties in the United States caused by this year’s presidential election might have slowed hydro-related legislation down some, but a number of bills currently working their way through Congress could significantly benefit the country’s hydroelectric development. 

Included are the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012, and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2012

All have strong bi-partisan support, and all are designed to guarantee hydropower has a place in President Barack Obama’s “all-out, all-of-the-above” energy strategy. 

Similar legislation has also passed in Canada. Bill C-38 – officially known as the “Budget Implementation Act” – modifies a number of existing acts in order to help speed the hydropower development process.

Canada’s 824-MW Muskrat Falls hydropower project also received official approval from the Newfoundland and Labrador government after decades of debate.

Latin America 

Brazil continues to be a hotbed of hydroelectric activity, though not without controversy.

Work at the country’s 11.2-GW Belo Monte hydroelectric complex is finally under way, though protests of the US$17 billion project are still causing delays.

Still, the plant is expected to be operational in 2015. 

Also in Brazil, a new set of sweeping energy tax sector reforms intended to spur economic growth by slashing residential and industrial power rates have caused several utilities to refuse energy generation concessions.

In all, 10.2 GW of Brazil’s 25.4 GW-worth of hydroelectric generating capacity remain unclaimed after the previous concession holders forfeit their claims.


Hydrokinetic research and development continues to dominate Europe’s hydropower headlines, with Scotland’s European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) being one of the biggest reasons why.

EMEC announced that the last testing site at its research bed had been claimed in March, with Vattenfall joining a number of other manufacturers using the site to advance their tidal and wave power technologies.

The European Union also continues to emphasize its goal of seeing 20% of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2020, and several countries announced their commitment to that plan in 2012.

Most recently, the European Commission awarded a $21.55 million grant to demonstrate pumped-storage hydropower’s role in balancing other forms of renewable energy. The commission says as much as 10 GW of additional power could be produced at Europe’s existing pumped-storage plants with turbine upgrades.


Hydropower development was strong in Asia throughout 2012, though dam safety issues became a recurring issue.

Caused in large part by seismic activity, Vietnam’s 2,400-MW Son La hydroelectric project has been under evaluation after being rattled by an earthquake this fall.

A partial collapse at Cambodia’s 120-MW Stung Atay also left several missing.

In other Asian news, however, the last units of China’s 22,500-MW Three Gorges project came online in July, and India’s Himachal Pradesh has announced a plan to increase its hydropower capacity by 10 GW over the next decade. 


With many African nations lacking adequate energy supplies and reservoirs for field irrigation, investments in Africa’s hydroelectric infrastructure were common this past year.

And though the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to advance on its 40,000-MW Grand Inga project, the bulk of Africa’s hydro proposals seem to fall into the small- to mid-sized range as to minimize transmission line investments.

Financing from international sources was also common through 2012, with many of Africa’s proposed projects being proposed under the build-operate-transfer model.

This article previously appeared at RenewableEnergyWorld.com — a fellow member of the PennWell Corporations Renewable Energy World Network.

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