Hydropower – still the world’s most popular renewable energy source in 2021
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World-wide output from hydropower stations in 2021 rose by 1.2 % to 4.14 terawatt hours (TWh), analysts Rystad Energy reported. Hydropower stations stood in third place in terms of share of world-wide power generation (16 %), behind coal-fired power generation (35 %) and gas-fired stations (23 %), but ahead of all other types of energy sources, including nuclear power (10 %), wind power (7 %) and solar panels (4 %). Those figures made hydropower the most widespread type of renewable power.

    Asia and South America were the driving forces between the development of the sector in recent years – installed capacity of hydropower stations from 2017 to 2022 rose by 52 gigawatts (GW) and 17 GW respectively.

    The leaders in terms of capacity were China (340 GW) and Brazil (112 GW), followed by the United States (84 GW, Canada (81 GW) and Russia (50 GW). China is also the leader in terms of the world’s largest hydropower stations – the Three Gorges station with a capacity of 22.5 GW was brought on stream fully in 2012 and the Baihetan station, which will have a capacity of 16 GW,once all 16 units are brought on stream.

    Another station, Wudongde, with a capacity of 10.2 GW, had its first unit go into operation in June 2021. Once the facility is fully operational, it will be the seventh largest hydropower station in the world.

     Focal points for growth were Africa, where, in 2017, installed capacity of hydropower stations increased on average by 2.5 % annually, and India where by 2030, capacity of hydro plants is to climb   by 55 % (to 73 GW).

    For Europe and North America, the determining factor is modernisation of existing stations rather than construction of new facilities.

   It is true, however, that developed countries are unlikely to manage the world-wide energy transition now underway without developing new hydropower resources. In Switzerland, by 2040, 15 new pumped storage power plants are to be built – eight to be located in Canton Valais, with the remaining seven in Berne (three), Graubuenden (2), Ticino and Uri. A second example – a project of the European Investment Bank (EIB) which in 2021 decided to finance construction of 13 dams and 12 small hydropower stations on the River Arno in Tuscany in Italy.

    The share of hydro in overall energy output in OECD countries – the club of developed economies primarily in Europe and North America —  totalled 14 % in 2020, according to BP data. The figure in Italy was 17 %, in Turkey 26 % and in Canada 60 %.

   Working in favour of these indicators are a lesser dependence of hydropower stations on weather conditions compared to other forms of renewable energy. Confirming this are figures for average load of U.S. hydropower stations which, in 2020 were higher than for wind farms and solar panels (40.7 % compared to 35.3 % and 24.2 %, according to data from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy).

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