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Facts about hydropower

Renewable hydropower is a clean, reliable and low-cost source of electricity generation and water management.

In a world in which 1 billion people still do not have access to electricity (IEA 2018) and 2.1 billion are without safely managed water supplies (WHO 2017), demand for hydropower is on the increase.

Hydropower is helping to decarbonise the global economy by aiding the adoption of complementary renewables and reducing dependence on fossil fuels which emit greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollutants.

Safely managed water services

  • Hydropower infrastructure and reservoirs can meet our basic needs for water management, providing clean water for homes, industry and agriculture, as well as transportation and recreation services.

  • Hydropower projects can mitigate the devastating impacts of extreme weather events such as floods and drought, which are on the rise due to climate change.

Low-carbon and pollution-free

  • Hydropower is among the cleanest sources of electricity, with an estimated median greenhouse gas emission intensity of 18.5 gCO2-eq/kWh.

  • If hydropower was replaced by coal, up to 4 billion tonnes of additional greenhouse gases would be emitted annually, increasing global emissions from fossil fuels and industry by 10 per cent each year. There would also be an additional 150 million tonnes of air polluting particulates emitted annually (2020 Hydropower Status Report).

Turbocharging variable renewables

  • No country has come close to achieving 100% renewable electricity without hydropower in the energy mix.

  • Thanks to its flexibility in dispatch and energy storage, hydropower is helping to accelerate the clean energy transition by working in concert with variable renewables like wind and solar.

  • Hydropower can meet demand when intermittment renewable sources are unavailable. Pumped storage hydropower, operating like a rechargable battery, absorbs energy from variable renewables when supply exceeds demand.

Low-cost over the long-term

  • Hydropower provides very low-cost electricity over its long lifetime, despite relatively high upfront construction costs.

  • The global weighted average cost of electricity from hydropower projects in 2018 was US$0.047 per kWh, making it the lowest-cost source of electricity in many markets (IRENA 2019).

  • In addition, hydropower provides an opportunity to generate significant revenue from exports to neighbouring countries.

  • The hydropower industry directly employs more than 2 million people worldwide, and many more in connected supply chains (IRENA 2019)

Sustainability in hydropower

  • Hydropower projects of all sizes can result in net-benefits to communities and the environment, provided they have a strategic fit in a river basin and are responsibly developed and operated.

  • Internationally recognised Hydropower Sustainability Tools exist to ensure that hydropower projects can be developed and operated in accordance with good practice. 

  • The sustainability tools were developed by a multi-stakeholder group of civil society, industry, governments and financial institutions, and are aligned with safeguards and frameworks developed by the World Bank and other organisations.

  • The International Hydropower Association (IHA) is committed to advancing sustainable hydropower. Learn more about IHA.