Flowing water is one of the clean, free, and renewable energy sources we can harness. Hydropower electricity, or hydroelectricity, is one of the many ways we use water currents to generate electricity. Our 41 hydropower facts show, in turn, power homes, farms, cities, and entire countries.
Below we highlight hydropower's growth and importance as we progress to cleaner renewable energy.
#1- As of 2019, hydropower continues to be the world's largest source of renewable electricity1
Hydropower represents one of the earliest (and most successful) integrations of renewable energy supply into the global supply channels. Today, hydropower is still the primary supplier of clean energy worldwide. One major reason for this is that states and countries can produce their energy domestically. Of course, because flowing water is available globally.
#2- There is about 1,300 GW of installed hydropower capacity globally1
#3- If we replaced hydropower with the burning of coal for electricity generation, analysis by IHA suggests that around 3.5 to 4.0 billion metric tonnes of additional greenhouse gases would be emitted annually1
Hydropower plants around the world are saving us from up to 4.0 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases that we would release if the portion of our hydroelectric supply came from fossil fuels.
Greenhouse gases are certain gases in our atmosphere that trap energy from the sun, making the earth habitable for us. In excess, though, they trap too much energy. The result causes adverse outcomes, such as what we now know as global warming.
#4- Major hydropower technology providers in the world, as of 2019, included Andritz Hydro (Austria), Bharat Heavy Electricals (India), Dongfang Electric (China), GE (United States), Harbin Electric (China), Hitachi Mitsubishi Hydro (Japan), Impsa (Argentina), Power Machines (Russian Federation), Toshiba (Japan) and Voith (Germany)2
#5- The hydropower industry is incorporating other renewable energy technologies – such as solar PV and wind power – with hydropower projects to reduce risk and support system resilience2
A growing trend in the renewable energy industry is the introduction of hybrid energy systems. This means incorporating two or more energy generators into one plant, for example, combining a solar and hydroelectric plant or wind and hydropower.
Research shows that with hydroelectricity, electricity generation can be more economical and eco-friendly if a hybrid system is applied. Hybrid systems can also improve the power generation capacity of energy plants.
Electricity production using wind, solar, and water current come at different peak periods and seasons. Crucially, as hydroelectric plants store energy behind dams when it is released, it can spin up hydropower turbines almost instantly. The result is going from zero power generation to capacity in a way that can fill the void left when the wind isn't blowing, and the sun isn't shining. This, in turn, can prevent major electricity blackouts as supply swings with peak energy demand.
Therefore, hybrid generation can keep the supply going much more regularly than an individual system. This makes for a far less polluting alternative than even the best fossil fuel plants burning coal or gas.
#6- Due to high energy intensity, hydropower reduces the amount of primary energy needed to meet final energy needs primarily because it requires less overall transformation losses during generation2
#7- Without hydropower, global emissions from fossil fuels and industry would be around 10 percent higher1
#8- The hydropower industry has invested at least $6 billion since 2005 in refurbishments, replacements, and upgrades to existing hydropower plants3
#9- Clean electricity generation from hydropower achieved a record 4,306 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2019, the single most significant contribution from a renewable energy source in history1
#10- We can attribute much of the recorded leaps and bounds in the growth of renewable energy to hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power retains its position as the largest renewable electricity supplier while surpassing its output records.
#11- In the five years between 2015 and 2019, the average year-on-year growth in installed hydropower capacity was 2.1 percent. In 2019 alone, it was 1.2 per cent1
#12- Globally, 4,306 TWh of hydroelectricity was generated in 2019, up 2.5% from the previous year1
#13- Globally, 15.6 GW of hydropower capacity was added, down 21.8 GW from the previous year1
While we see hydroelectric power generation growth, we also see a decline in the installation of hydroelectric dams and hydroelectric power plants. The new and existing systems are working better than ever. But there's a slowdown in adding electricity generated by new hydroelectric capacity.
#14- Global net additions of hydropower fell to 12.7 GW in 2019, the lowest level recorded since 2001[ref]
The International Energy Agency (IEA) attributes the decline in hydroelectricity capacity addition to the slowdown in China.
China has stayed in the lead in global hydropower development since 1996. Since 2013, a few problems facing China's contributions in this industry have successfully slowed down the country's progress.
China faces social issues, such as forced migration resulting from the need to utilize natural resources to set up power plants. Many regions no longer trusted/actively disputed the agreements between power companies and their provincial governments.
China also faced the problem of resource availability to create and complete projects needed to keep it ahead and generate power for its growing population. However, projections for 2020 and 2021 are promising due to the development of Wudongde (10 GW) and Bhaetan (16 GW). As a result, forecasters expect the country to regain its lead in global hydroelectricity development.
#15- In 2019, some 19,000 mini-grids were installed to provide electricity access to around 47 million people during the year, with hydropower serving as the second most popular energy source for these grids2
#16- China’s total completed hydropower projects during 2019 represented an investment of CNY 81.4 billion (USD 11.6 billion), an increase of 16.3% over 20182
#17- Investment in hydropower projects larger than 50 MW added an estimated USD 15 billion to the global total in 20194
Even with the recorded decline in installation projects, large-scale hydroelectric power projects are still receiving significant investments.
2019 saw the conclusion of financial commitments for large-scale electricity projects in the hydro industry. For example, Voith, a global electricity company, received a contract to supply 250MW turbines and generators. The contract was won to service the 1GW Pakal Dul hydropower plant in Jammu and Kashmir of India.
However, it's also harder to build large-scale hydropower these days. Environmental and location assessments often prove challenging to overcome. And whereas previously, the cost of operating a hydropower plant grew at a rate less than inflation, today, the costs are considerably higher. Whereas sustainable energy, the environmental impacts of hydropower include flooded land, costly flood control, and displaced biodiversity.
#18- The global market for energy storage of all types reached 183 GW in 2019. With mechanical storage in the form of pumped (hydropower) storage accounting for most of this capacity2
#19- In 2019, US hydropower generation contracted (down 6.4%) for the second year running, to 274 TWh2
#20- By the end of 2019, Belo Monte was the fourth largest hydropower plant in the world generating electricity amounting to 7% of Brazil's generation capacity2
The Belo Monte dam is a hydroelectric project that cost an estimated $18 billion and took five years to complete. The dam sits on Brazil's Xingu River with a promised installed capacity of 11,233 MW. Although this dam still hasn't produced its promised full-operational capacity due to extreme seasonal issues, the dam is still a significant contributor to Brazil's energy capacity.
#21- More hydropower capacity was added across Asia than in any other region during 2019, with several countries bringing plants online2
#22- In the US, Nearly 25,000 jobs are supported nationally by hydropower construction and upgrades, along with $1.4 billion in earnings, and nearly $3.3 billion in output3
The facts show that the hydroelectric power industry notably contributes to national income in the United States. One of the things you might not know about hydropower is the long list of professionals and specialists needed to keep the industry growing, especially when you think of hydroelectric power's supply chain and the large-scale industrial construction that occurs when building dams.
The hydroelectric industry in the United States is a major employer of labor. It provides jobs in project development, design, manufacturing, installation, operations, maintenance, and so on. And these are only the jobs directly linked to the industry. Many other related jobs are unaccounted for, especially in supply and business services.
#23- Hydropower provided 85% of cumulative U.S. renewable power generation between 1950-20153
#24- By 2019, hydropower remains the dominant source of electricity supply in Canada, representing 61 percent of total electricity generation and 55 percent of total installed generation capacity1
#25- By 2019, Hydropower remains the primary renewable resource in Africa with over 37 GW of installed capacity1
Hydroelectricity is the primary large-scale renewable energy contributor in Africa. The continent continues to adopt other renewable sources such as solar and wind. However, we cannot find these sources at the same capacity as hydro.
Electricity power stations usually support fossil fuel plants and hydro plants. Especially those provided at the national and state levels. Investments in water storage and hydroelectric power plant installation will be needed to move the dial on the continent's electricity generation.
#26- Africa has the highest untapped hydropower potential in the world, with only 11 percent utilized1
Compared to the rest of the world, Africa is at a record low in terms of electrification. Not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack in installed capacity. Hydropower, especially, is a viable solution to Africa's problems producing electricity cleanly and reliably that are left untapped.
#27- By 2019, the US' total hydropower capacity, including pumped storage, remained at 103 GW, with about 50 GW of untapped hydropower potential1
#28- East Asia and the Pacific, thanks to the vast contribution of Chinese hydropower, remains the largest hydropower producing region by installed capacity at 487 GW1
#29- Hydropower now represents 40 percent of the installed capacity and approximately 50 percent of the electricity generation in Central America1
#30- In Turkey, hydropower capacity rose by 145 MW and stood at 31 percent of total national capacity at the end of 20191
#31- China is the regional leader in hydropower development in all of Asia, with 356.40 GW total installed capacity1
#32- Between 2017 and 2050, hydropower could save $209 billion in avoided damages from greenhouse gas emissions3
As global demands grow, electricity generation will only follow the same upward trajectory. As a renewable energy source, hydropower is saving the world from harmful greenhouse emissions. Especially if we factored in what would have happened if we entirely relied on fossil-fuel sources.
Not only would these emissions damage the environment, but globally, we would have to sink billions into offsetting these damages. The world cannot sustainably meet this cost over an extended period of time.
#33- To limit global temperature rise, IRENA suggests global hydropower capacity would need to increase by 25 percent by 2030 and by 60 percent by 20501
The power industry is a significant contributor to climate change and its resulting concerns, such as global warming. As the hydropower facts above show, modern hydropower plants comprise one of the many solutions to this problem.
We need to record more progress to tackle this problem effectively. We need more hydroelectricity capacities and power stations, specifically 25 percent more by 2030 and 60 percent more by 2050.
#34- Between 2017 and 2050, hydropower could save $58 billion from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages due to air pollution3
#35- Between 2017 and 2050, hydropower could save 30 trillion gallons of water, equivalent to roughly 45 million Olympic-size swimming pools3
#36- U.S. hydropower could grow from 101 gigawatts (GW) of combined generating and storage capacity to nearly 150 GW by 2050—with more than 50% of this growth realized by 20303
#37- Experts project the global hydropower generation market to reach 4.8 Thousand Terawatt hours (TWh) by 20275
#38- Experts forecast the hydropower markets in Japan and Canada to grow at 2% and 1.5% respectively over the 2020-2027 period5
#39- In 2030, total contributions to US output could be as high as $78.9 billion, and contributions to GDP could be as high as $49.7 billion3
#40- In 2050, total contributions to US output could be as high as $72.4 billion, and contributions to GDP could be as high as $46.4 billion3
#41- Total annual contributions to US GDP could approach levels of $40 billion–$50 billion per year by 2030 and remain at that level through 20503
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.