Perspectives: The Importance of Telling Hydro’s Story

By Marla Barnes

In October 2014, at the HydroVision Brasil event in Sao Paulo, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) held a hydropower briefing. IHA wanted to hear from representatives of its Brazilian member companies the answers to this question: “What are the most important, urgent issues you’d like to see IHA work on in the coming year?”

The most important topic on the minds of the Brazilians attending the briefing was not a technical- or business-focused one. Instead, the issue getting the most traction was … communications. Specifically, the need to tell hydro’s story to the media and to the general public.

My observation of this interchange quickly took me back to 1992. Twenty-two years ago, Hydro Review magazine organized an “R&D Forum.” The idea was to bring together hydro industry leaders from throughout North America to discuss and debate the top needs in hydro research and development. The top needs would then be taken to policy- and decision-makers in North America to influence change. In that forum, the top “R&D” need was identified as … you guessed it … communications.

At that time in North America, hydro’s image among the public and the press was either negative or not even “on the radar.” There was even debate about whether hydro could even be referred to as a renewable electric power resource!

In the aftermath of that fateful forum, a number of associations, companies and individuals made sustained efforts over the years to remedy this image problem. As a result, today, the image of hydropower in North America is much better than it was 20 years ago.

According to the website of the National Hydropower Association (NHA), results of a recent poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International show that “Hydropower enjoys a strongly positive reputation as an energy source. Nearly four-in-five Americans (78%) believe hydropower is cleaner than other current forms of energy, and roughly the same number (77%) think of hydropower as an environmentally-friendly resource. Moreover, hydropower is also seen as renewable (74%) and reliable (72%) by nearly three-quarters of Americans.”

The headlines of recent electric-power-related articles published by the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal are great examples of the media giving hydropower its due:

— “Hydroelectric Power Making a Comeback as Companies Turn to Renewable Energy”
— “Strong Currents for Hydropower”

But, the work is not over, no matter these results. Communicating hydro’s story to the public and to the press must be a sustained effort and one the industry must never take for granted … wherever you are in the world.

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor

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