Hydropower 'renaissance' underway

Paul Boughton

While it remains easier to build a coal plant than a hydro facility due to social and environmental concerns, hydropower is enjoying a renaissance.  Large hydro projects seek to exploit the huge unused potential in Central Africa, Latin America, Russia and Canada.

With only one third of achievable hydro potential developed to date and at least 75 per cent of the unexploited hydropower potential found in Africa, Asia and Latin America, experts said it is clear that growth potential within the sector remains significant.

Richard Taylor, executive director of the International Hydropower Association, speaking at the recent World Energy Congress, said negotiations with environmental activists, banks and other players since 2000, which led to the 2011 Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, have been rewarded with 'record deployment' since 2007. “Hydropower has been in renaissance,” he said.

Noting that hydro’s infrastructure keeps producing power long after it is paid for, Oskar Sigvaldason, founder and president of SCMS Global, said that in mature markets such as the United States and Canada, “the lowest cost charges are in those jurisdictions which happen to be hydro-dominated.” His message regarding hydro is clear, saying: “Wherever it is, it should be built.”

But in contrast to planned coal plants, which tend to be considered in isolation, hydro projects are more complex, typically needing to be integrated with overall national development programmes. Multinational and regional collaboration must be better structured to support further development of hydro projects, he said.

Hydro has found itself 'in the penalty box' over the last few decades, Sigvaldason observed, with NGOs, the public and governments criticizing population displacement and environmental damage resulting from the building of dams.

Some of the criticism goes too far, said Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, CEO of Sarawak Energy in Malaysia. “The developing world should not be expected to meet standards which we have never met” in the West, he said. Alessandro Clerici, the World Energy Council’s executive chair of world energy resources said critics should take account of the fact that construction of hydro projects provides “a lot of employment in these poor countries.”

For more information,  www.worldenergy.org