The new year provides a good time to take stock of where we are and where we’re going. The current high level of interest in renewable energy is advantageous for hydro. Nonetheless, vigilance is needed to ensure that messages about hydro’s benefits and contributions are continually delivered to key constituencies and the public at large.
The high prices for oil and natural gas that ricocheted through the world’s economies in 2007 and 2008 brought attention to the desirability of renewable energy. Today, the public is more aware that having renewable energy is a good thing. Politicians now routinely praise renewable energy — although regrettably, from the perspective of hydro, they often restrict their references to “wind and solar.”
Surveys repeatedly show that hydropower has a good reputation with the public … yet there’s no denying that hydro has vociferous detractors. And, of course, politicians seek to avoid controversy — unless they see that it can be turned to their advantage.
Over many years, surveys within the hydro industry have continually shown that one of the highest priorities is to convey strong, truthful messages about hydro to various constituencies, including policymakers and the public.
A bit of the truth about renewable energy is shown by U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. The EIA projects that the amount of renewable electricity produced in the U.S. in 2008 likely will exceed by 15% that produced in 2007. Of the production forecast of 406 terawatt-hours, the breakdown by source is:
- — Hydro, 71%
— Wind, 11%
— Wood, 9%
— Waste, 4%
— Geothermal, 4%
— Solar, 0.2%
From 2007 to 2008, wind and wood exchanged places in the above ranking, with wind’s share climbing 2% and wood’s share declining 2%. All other shares remain about the same.
Another key hydro contribution — that from pumped storage — is overlooked in EIA’s “hydro” data. Where pumped storage is available, it is a vital factor both for producing economical electricity and for maintaining grid security and reliability. North America is woefully short of this type of flexible generating capability — a shortage exacerbated by the increasing amounts of wind power being added to the grid. Pumped storage is a proven, cost-effective — and, importantly, large-scale — method that could readily be harnessed for accommodating the intermittency of wind power.
Major efforts are under way throughout North America to develop additional water power resources — conventional hydro (including many projects at existing dams), pumped storage, and new ocean/tidal/ stream power. Survey articles in Hydro Review — which, by now, understate the level of development activity — point to more than 13,000 MW of new hydro capacity.*
Our job — one of our highest priorities — is to prepare and deliver powerful messages about hydro’s benefits and contributions and to advocate for policies that provide incentives for future contributions.
*“Hydro Development in Canada: An Update,” November 2008; “Hydro Development: A New Day,” April 2008; “Hydro Construction in Canada: A Snapshot of Activity,” November 2007.