Hydropower  is the largest source of renewable power in the world, producing around 17% of the world’s electricity. Its growth has slowed in recent years but capacity additions are expected to continue and add 135 GW by 2021.

China has driven global hydropwer growth over the last decade, with an almost tripling of hydropower generation from 2005 to 2015. The world’s largest power station, the 22.5 GW Three Gorges Dam in China, was completed in 2008. Over the next five year’s China’s role in the global market is likely to decline.

	China	Latin America	Asia and Pacific	Europe, Eurasia, and North America	Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA
2009	24	1	3	4	2
2010	20	3	5	4	1
2011	17	4	7	4	1
2012	16	3	7	6	1
2013	31	2	3	6	1
2014	24	5	5	5	1
2015	15	4	5	6	1
2016	11	5	5	4	3
2017	9	5	6	3	3
2018	9	5	5	4	3
2019	8	3	5	3	3
2020	7	3	4	3	3
2021	5	2	3	2	3
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Source: Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2016

Hydropower is a mature technology, yet it continues to evolve. There has been increasing focus on the role it can play in providing system flexibility and stability, respecially where the share of variable renewables – primarily wind power and solar photovoltaic (PV) – is increasing rapidly. Reservoir hydropower plants and pump storage plants are particularly suited to providing system flexibility, while run-of-the river hydropower plants are themselves variable according to current or seasonal weather conditions.

  • Run-of-river hydropower plants harness energy for electricity production mainly from the available flow of the river. These plants may include short-term storage or “pondage”, allowing for some hourly or daily flexibility but they usually have substantial seasonal and yearly variations.
  • Reservoir hydropower plants rely on stored water in a reservoir. This provides the flexibility to generate electricity on demand and reduces dependence on the variability of inflows. Very large reservoirs can retain months or even years of average inflows and can also provide flood protection and irrigation services.
  • Pumped storage plants (PSPs) use water that is pumped from a lower reservoir into an upper reservoir when electricity supply exceeds demand or can be generated at low cost. When demand exceeds instantaneous electricity generation and electricity has a high value, water is released to flow back from the upper reservoir through turbines to generate electricity. Pumped storage currently represents 99% of on-grid electricity storage.

Technology Roadmaps

The IEA has developed and regularly updates a series of global, low-carbon energy technology roadmaps which identify priority actions for governments, industry, financial partners and civil society that will advance technology development and uptake to achieve international climate change goals.

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Technology Roadmap: Hydropower

Published: 29 October 2012

Hydropower could double its contribution by 2050, reaching 2,000 GW of global capacity and over 7,000 TWh. This achievement, driven primarily by the quest of clean electricity, could prevent annual emissions of up to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil-fuel plants. The bulk of this growth would come from large plants in emerging economies and developing countries.

Hydroelectricity’s many advantages include reliability, proven technology, large storage capacity, and very low operating and maintenance costs. Hydropower is highly flexible, a precious asset for electricity network operators, especially given rapid expansion of variable generation from other renewable energy technologies such as wind power and photovoltaics. Many hydropower plants also provide flood control, irrigation, navigation and freshwater supply.

The technology roadmap for Hydropower details action needed from policy makers to allow hydroelectric production to double, and addresses necessary conditions, including resolving environmental issues and gaining public acceptance.

Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP)

IEA Hydropower TCP logo

The objective of the IEA TCP on Hydropower is to encourage awareness, knowledge and support for the sustainable use of water resources for the development and management of hydropower. This includes applying an interdisciplinary approach to hydropower research: increasing knowledge of a broad range of souses relating to hydropower, exploring areas of common interest among international organizations; disseminating balanced, unbiased information on hydropower; an encouraging hydropower development. There are eight Contracting Parties, including Brazil and China.

Learn more about the Hydropower TCP >

About Technology Collaboration Programmes

The breadth and coverage of analytical expertise in the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) are unique assets that underpin IEA efforts to support innovation for energy security, economic growth and environmental protection. The 38 TCPs operating today involve about 6 000 experts from government, industry and research organisations in more than 50 countries.

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