Hydropower

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

More efforts needed

Hydropower generation is estimated to have increased by over 3% in 2018 due to continued recovery from drought in Latin America as well as strong capacity expansion and good water availability in China. This was a much larger increase than the 1.5% increase in 2017. However, capacity additions declined for the fifth consecutive year, putting this technology off track with the SDS, which requires continuous growth in new-build capacity to maintain an average generation increase of 2.5% per year through 2030.

Heymi Bahar
Lead author

Hydropower generation

	Historical	Forecast	SDS
2000	2618.3		
2001	2561.1		
2002	2628.8		
2003	2641.6		
2004	2812.1		
2005	2934.8		
2006	3044.6		
2007	3083.3		
2008	3213.2		
2009	3267.5		
2010	3445.3		
2011	3514.0		
2012	3677.8		
2013	3809.0		
2014	3905.9		
2015	3904.7		
2016	4061.5		
2017	4109.4		
2018	4243.5		
2019		4274.2	
2020		4364.4	
2021		4440.0	
2022		4505.4	
2023		4576.4	
2025			5011.7
2030			5722.4
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Back to Renewables sector | TCEP overview 🕐 Last updated Friday, May 24, 2019

Tracking progress


Hydropower additions were stable in 2018 (25 GW) with the commissioning of large-scale projects in China and Brazil. However, this growth is 40% below the 43 GW of capacity commissioned in 2013 when global additions peaked.

Hydropower, the largest renewable electricity technology by capacity and generation, is not fully on track to reach the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) level. In the SDS, hydropower generation expands by 2.5% per year until 2030, meaning that capacity additions need to accelerate to return to the record level of 2013 by 2030. Instead, capacity expansion has been losing speed.

This downward trend is expected to continue due mainly to less large-project development in China and Brazil, where concerns over social and environmental impacts have restricted projects.


Hydropower annual capacity additions

In 2018, hydropower capacity additions declined continuously since 2013

	2016	2017	2018
China	12.5	11.5	8.5
United States	0.5	-0.1	0.144
India	0.46	1.9	0.546
Brazil	5.3	3.4	2.6
Japan	-0.1	-0.1	-0.03
EU	1.8	0.6	0.47
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Meanwhile, deployment in India, Africa, and Southeast Asia accelerates in response to new demand, untapped resource potential, and attractive economics to improve electricity access affordably. However, in the absence of policy action, this growth will not be enough to compensate for slower expansion in China and Brazil.

Innovation gaps


While hydropower is a mature power generation technology, with high energy payback ratio and conversion efficiency, there are still many areas where small but important improvements in technological development are needed. Work is underway to identify and apply new technologies, systems, approaches and innovations, including experience from other industries, that have the potential to make hydropower development more reliable, efficient, valuable and safe. Improvements along the lines of those made in the last 30 to 50 years will also need to continue, though with smaller incremental benefits: mainly in physical size, hydraulic efficiency and environmental performance.

Innovative hydropower designs

Dams have a high social and environmental cost, heavily disrupting ecosystems and populations where they are developed. Alternatives that do not require damming or resettlement of populations would help reach SDS levels.

Read more about this innovation gap →

Reducing the cost and impact of civil works

The cost of civil works associated with new hydropower project construction can be up to 70% of total project costs, and their social and environmental impacts can be considerable, so improved methods, technologies and materials for planning, design and construction have considerable potential.

Read more about this innovation gap →

Additional resources