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July 2018

27 July 2018

The first global review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on water and energy took place at a recent high-level United Nations forum in New York, USA. 

The 2018 UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development saw 47 countries carry out voluntary national reviews of several SDGs, including SDGs 6 and 7.


Despite adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the world still faces a water and energy crisis, with more than a billion people lacking access to electricity and over two billion without safely managed water services.

Richard Taylor, Chief Executive of the International Hydropower Association (IHA), said: “Meeting the SDGs on water and energy can only be realised if we build clean energy systems, manage freshwater responsibly and deliver climate change solutions. If we work on SDGs 6 and 7 in an integrated way, there’s a good chance we will achieve all our sustainability goals.”

Integrated approaches for water and energy to help achieve the SDGs was the focus of a seminar hosted by the Sustainable Water and Energy Solutions Partnership, a new initiative between UN DESA and IHA platinum member Itaipu Binacional.

Participants discussed the need for holistic implementation of water and energy solutions and shared ideas, innovations, programmes, partnerships and business models.

The Sustainable Water and Energy Solutions Partnership was launched in March to find solutions to the world’s pressing energy and water challenges. It will work over an initial four-year period to promote water and energy sustainability, as well as other SDGs in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

IHA’s Richard Taylor sits on the partnership’s steering committee, which met for the first time during the forum, alongside representatives from UN DESA, Itaipu Binacional, governments, businesses, civil society and international organisations.

The sixth annual United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, titled ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’, took place between 9 and 18 July.

Alongside water and energy, the forum looked at goal 11, sustainable cities and communities; goal 12, responsible consumption and production; goal 15, life on land; and goal 17, partnerships for the goals.

Find out more about the 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development online.

25 July 2018

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) is deeply saddened to hear of the major flood incident at the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project in Laos on Monday night.

Our thoughts are with everyone affected and all those involved in the recovery and relief effort.

The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project

On Monday 23 July, one of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project’s saddle dams failed and caused severe flooding into the Xe-Pian River, affecting several villages in the Sanamxay district. Detailed investigations by authorities and SK Engineering & Construction, the lead company responsible for building the dam, are still underway.

Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company (PNPC), the owner of the project, is a joint venture between SK Engineering & Construction, Korea Western Power, Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding and Lao Holding State Enterprise.

Underpinning the financing of the project was a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between PNPC and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, which would see 90 per cent of electricity exported to Thailand. The remaining 10 per cent is part of a PPA between PNPC and Électricité du Laos. Under the terms of development, the project is intended to become the property of the Laotian government after 27 years.

Hydropower in Laos and regional interconnections

Laos has 4,984 MW of installed hydropower capacity and generated an estimated 22.7 TWh last year. It has a much larger theoretical potential of around 26.5 GW.

Laos continues to expand its generating capacity with an increasing emphasis on regional integration. Over 50 new hydropower projects are under consideration across the country, representing 8,000 MW of additional capacity if all were to be realised. Several projects totalling 166 MW were commissioned in 2017.

Driven by strong economic growth, energy demand in Southeast Asia has grown by 60 per cent over the past 15 years. According to the International Energy Agency, the region is expected to grow by a further 60 per cent by 2040.

Laos is a key power exporter to the Southeast Asia region. Currently, Laos sells its electricity to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Thailand is its main market, requiring up to 9,000 MW capacity by 2025. Laos is looking to expand its sales to Malaysia via Thailand’s electrical interconnection, and then to Singapore through Malaysia. In the first nine months of 2017, Laos exported 19 TWh of electricity, worth about USD 975 million. This was an increase of 25 per cent compared with the same period in 2016.

Laos transmits electricity into Thailand at various locations, including from the Nam Theun 2 hydropower station (1,090 MW), through an interconnection at the Thai border near Savannakhet, and at further connections to the northeast of Thailand. Theun Hinboun hydropower station (440 MW) exports electricity through transmission lines in south central Laos into Thailand, and the Nam Ngum hydropower stations (Phase 1 is 155 MW and Phase 2 is 615 MW) export electricity further to the north.

Hydropower stations are also connected to Vietnam’s electricity grid, with interconnections in the south of Laos fed by the Xekaman Phase 1 (290 MW) and Phase 3 (250 MW) stations.

IHA has offered collaboration to Laos on sharing relevant experience within its international network of members and partners, and stands ready to support the government and all organisations involved in hydropower development and operations.

24 May 2018

A new study of the greenhouse gas footprint of almost 500 reservoirs worldwide, which applied the G-res Tool for assessing net emissions, indicates that hydropower is one of the cleanest energy sources.

The greenhouse gas footprint of hydropower has long been questioned in both scientific and policy spheres, especially with regard to emissions caused by the creation of a reservoir. There has been a lack of scientific consensus on how to quantify this footprint, and this uncertainty has proved a significant obstacle for policy and decision makers concerning the financing of hydropower projects and whether they achieve the designation of being climate-friendly.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report published in 2014, noted that only onshore and offshore wind and nuclear power have lower median lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than hydropower. However the panel cautioned that few studies had appraised the net emissions of freshwater reservoirs, allowing for pre-existing natural sources and sinks and unrelated human emission sources.

The challenge of assessing net climate emissions

Over the years, a number of researchers have measured gross reservoir emissions at sites around the world, but the results of each study cannot be reliably applied to other reservoirs, even in the same region. The biochemical processes leading to emissions from a reservoir are highly complex, and life-cycle emissions are very specific to the siting and design of each hydropower facility.

Emissions relating to the construction and operation of a dam, due to fossil fuel combustion and cement/steel production, can vary depending on its type and size. Once filled, factors such as a reservoir’s depth and shape, the amount of sun reaching its floor, and wind speed, affect the different biogeochemical pathways by which CO2 and CH4 are created and released to the atmosphere.

The process of taking measurements to determine the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of a hydropower facility or reservoir can be cumbersome or prohibitively expensive. Calculating the net change in emissions caused by a reservoir is highly challenging.

Development of the G-res Tool

Against this backdrop, the GHG Reservoir (G-res) Tool was developed by IHA and UNESCO in cooperation with researchers from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQÀM) in Canada, the Norwegian Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) and the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (LUKE). This research was supported by the World Bank and sponsors from the hydropower sector.

The tool was devised to enable companies, investors and other stakeholders to more accurately estimate the net change in GHG emissions attributable to the creation of a specific reservoir. It takes into account the state of the land pre-impoundment, considering naturally occurring emissions and emissions related to other human activities over the lifetime of the reservoir. It also provides a method for apportioning the net GHG footprint to the various freshwater services that a reservoir provides, such as water supply for irrigation and cities, flood and drought management, navigation, fisheries and recreation.

The G-res Tool was formally launched, after more than a decade of development work, at the World Hydropower Congress in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 2017.

Worldwide study of hydropower reservoirs

During 2017, researchers from IHA undertook a study of 498 reservoirs worldwide using the G-res Tool. The study looked at reservoirs in boreal, temperate, subtropical and tropical climates more than 50 countries in North and Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, South and Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.


The study used the G-res Tool to estimate the GHG footprint of 178 single purpose hydropower reservoirs and 320 multipurpose reservoirs, excluding emissions caused by construction activity. This data was coupled with project-specific installed hydropower capacity and average annual generation data to obtain the emissions intensity of each site’s hydropower operations.

The global median GHG emission intensity of the hydropower reservoirs included in the study was 18.5 gCO2-eq/kWh; this is the grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated allocated to hydropower over a life-cycle. The majority, or 84 per cent of reservoirs, exhibited emissions less than 100 gCO2-eq/kWh. For a comparison with the median values of other electricity sources, see figure 1.

Temperature is one of the variables that has, in theory, a significant effect on reservoir emissions. However mean annual temperature is only one of many variables that influence GHG emissions. The G-res Tool includes other input variables such as the soil carbon content of the reservoir, depth of the thermocline, reservoir drawdown area and the catchment annual run-off. The second figure above shows the emissions intensity attributable to hydropower reservoirs categorised by their respective climate zones.

The IHA study confirms the majority of hydropower reservoirs studied are producing very low-carbon power; although some reservoirs in every climate category can potentially have high emissions exceeding 100 gCO2-eq/kWh (defined by the Climate Bonds Initiative to be an important threshold).

Figure 2 shows the relationship between the GHG emissions intensity (gCO2-eq/kWh) plotted against the power density of the projects (W/m2). High emissions intensities are possible from hydropower reservoirs, even on the same order of magnitude as fossil fuel generators, but only at extremely low power densities. Low power density however does not necessarily translate to high emissions intensity, as many projects with low power densities have emissions intensities well below 100 gCO2-eq/kWh (left of the red line).


It bears noting that the emissions intensity identified from this study applies only to hydropower projects with large reservoirs; many hydropower projects, often run-of-river, do not flood significant areas of land and consequently will have even lower emissions. It should also be noted that hydropower facilities equipped with reservoir storage provide many other valuable power and water benefits. By storing water in a reservoir, a project can offer balancing and ancillary services, delivering dispatachable power when needed. A reservoir also provides water for vital non-power uses such as flood control and drought management, and water supply for municipalities and agriculture.

This article is featured in the 2018 Hydropower Status Report.

11 July 2018

A multi-stakeholder coalition of civil society, industry, governments and financial institutions today launched an expanded suite of tools for assessing hydropower projects against sustainability performance criteria.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, the world’s leading scoring framework for evaluating hydropower projects, has been updated to examine hydropower’s carbon footprint and resilience to climate change. In addition, a new tool will enable project proponents and investors to identify and address gaps against international good practice.


The new suite of tools was developed over 18 months by the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, which is constituted by organisations such as the World Bank, The Nature Conservancy, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, WWF, the Inter-American Development Corporation, hydropower companies and governments.

“Today marks the most significant expansion in the tools available to assess hydropower performance in almost a decade, following extensive consultation within and beyond the hydropower sector,” commented Mr Roger Gill, Chair of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol’s governance committee.

“This is good news for both project proponents and concerned stakeholders who want to measure projects against international practice. Developers and investors now have a targeted, cost effective way of assessing sustainability, while governments and communities can be confident that evaluations are based on robust, objective criteria,” he added.

The new suite of tools comprises:


An expanded sustainability protocol

An expansion of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, first launched in 2010, to cover best and good practice in climate mitigation and resilience. A project that scores well under the new criteria will have a low carbon footprint and be resilient to the impacts of climate change.




A targeted gap analysis tool

A new Hydropower Sustainability Environmental, Social and Governance Gap Analysis Tool. Modelled on the Protocol’s evaluation framework, the ESG Tool offers a targeted assessment across 12 core sections, including biodiversity, downstream flows, project affected communities, cultural heritage, working conditions, and infrastructure safety, as well as climate change.


The International Hydropower Association (IHA) supports the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council as the Protocol’s management body, overseeing the training and accreditation of independent assessors. Assessments can be made at all stages of a hydropower project’s lifetime, from preparation, to development and operation.

Richard Taylor, Chief Executive of IHA, commented: 

“With this announcement, the hydropower sector now has two ways to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of a project. The ESG Tool will allow companies to identify good practice and address gaps through a management plan, providing vital reassurance to investors and other stakeholders. For companies that require a more comprehensive assessment, the Protocol remains the first choice for benchmarking a project and showcasing how it performs against international good practice and proven best practice.”

Doug Smith, an accredited assessor who helped to develop the expanded suite of tools, said: 

“The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol’s new climate change topic will underline its status as the leading tool for hydropower assessment, reflecting newly built consensus in both greenhouse-gas emissions and climate resilience. The ESG Tool’s impact on the sector could also be profound, as the assessments will be systematic and rapid, without compromising rigour, and will include an action plan to close any gaps against good practice.”

Dr James Dalton, Director of the Global Water Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), commented: 

“Developing tools and guidelines to help guide society with the resource management choices we face is critical to our future economic, social and environmental development. The hydropower industry has learned from the last eight years of Protocol experience. Building this experience into the Protocol and the new ESG tool is critical to help industry and investors learn, gain confidence in the tools, and expand the use of the Protocol.”

Luiz Gabriel Todt de Azevedo, Chief of the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance Division of IDB Invest, part of the Inter-American Development Corporation, commented that the new ESG Tool aligns with the Protocol’s goal of promoting sustainable hydropower. 

“The new ESG Tool responds to industry demands. It is an agile and low-cost alternative to be employed by developers and operators in the first level assessment of their projects,” he said.

The tool was developed by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) under the mandate of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council and with the support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Further information:

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol was developed in response to the World Commission on Dams, which showed the need for the hydropower sector to have a global tool for reporting sustainability.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, which governs the Protocol, includes environmental NGOs and IGOs (The Nature Conservancy, WWF, IUCN), social NGOs (Transparency International, Women for Water Partnership), development banks (World Bank Group, Inter-American Development Corporation), governments (Norway, Switzerland), and hydropower sector owners and contractors.

The new ESG Tool focuses on 12 sections: Environmental and social impact assessment and management; Labour and working conditions; Downstream flows, sedimentation and water quality; Project-affected communities and livelihoods; Resettlement; Indigenous peoples; Biodiversity and invasive species; Cultural heritage; Infrastructure safety; Climate change mitigation and resilience; Communications and consultation; and Governance and procurement.

To download the suite of tools and find out more information, please visit: