Guest Blog: npower’s Wayne Mitchell on Hydropower

How the world’s biggest renewable power source is set to double If I asked you what technology accounts for the largest share of renewable energy in the world, what would […]

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By george marshall

How the world’s biggest renewable power source is set to double

If I asked you what technology accounts for the largest share of renewable energy in the world, what would you say? Wind power perhaps, or solar?

It may surprise you to know the answer is hydropower, accounting for 76% of the global renewable market and 16.4% of global power supply. And this is set to rise.

Of course hydro is a well-established technology that’s been around for more than a century. So when you think about it, hydro’s sizeable renewable market share shouldn’t be unexpected.

But in a report published last month, the World Energy Council estimates the current 1000GW capacity is set to double by 2050, due to an upsurge in new hydro projects around the world (but not in the UK).

Better understanding and multiple benefits

This resurgence in hydro is mostly due to better management and understanding of what this technology can provide.

With new energy storage technologies still in their infancy, hydro with pumped storage still remains the leading large-scale option.

Flood protection and drought management are also growing concerns, and hydropower schemes can help support these aims too.

Plus, while hydro requires a large volume of water to operate, it doesn’t use much in the actual production of energy, compared to conventional generation. So a greater reliance on hydro could help to reduce pressure on global water demands.

As a result, previous opponents have become more pro, with, for example, the World Bank, the World Wildlife Fund and the National Trust now supporting hydropower schemes.

It’s expected that some 3,700 major new hydropower dams will be built in the next 20 years, according to a recent study by the University of Copenhagen – a development hailed as an ‘unprecedented boon’.

Untapped resources worldwide

But there is still huge potential for further growth. The World Energy Council estimated there remains 1000TWh a year of untapped hydropower potential. For example:

  • Russia has the world’s largest estimated hydropower potential – worth up to 1.5 million GWh a year – yet only currently uses around 10% of this.
  • China currently utilises around 41% of its estimated 1.3 million GWh.
  • India taps just 21% of its 0.5 million GWh potential.
  • Indonesia has the sixth largest hydro resource yet only utilises 3% of its 0.39 million GWh potential.

The UK, by comparison, already takes advantage of the majority of our hydro potential, generating almost 6000GWh of hydropower in 2014, which accounted for around 1.4% of our overall power. Our sister company RWE Innogy runs one of the UK’s largest hydro plants at Dollgarog in the Snowdonia Natural Park in Wales. But Scotland has by far the greatest overall hydro resource, supplying 12% of Scottish power.

Small-scale potential in UK

But while there is limited scope for large-scale development, small-scale hydro is a growing area. According to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, small-scale hydro has the potential to deliver 850 to 1500MW capacity, which could equate to a further 1 to 2% of UK generation.

Our sister company RWE Innogy UK is already working on a number of schemes, supporting more than 78MW of hydro development in Scotland, Wales and England, with further projects in development and construction.

While developing more  small-scale hydro in the UK won’t contribute significantly towards the large-scale global goals of the World Energy Council, it will make significant differences to the businesses involved and help reduce UK carbon emissions.


Wayne Mitchell is Director of Markets & Innovation for npower Business Solutions

This is a sponsored article.