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Hydropower

Hydropower, or hydroelectricity, is expected to remain the world’s largest source of renewable electricity generation and play a critical role in decarbonising the power system and improving system flexibility.

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Key findings

Hydropower generation in the Net Zero Scenario, 2010-2030

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Due to droughts, hydropower generation decreased in 2021 for the first time in two decades, despite relatively high capacity growth

In 2021 global hydropower generation decreased by 15 TWh (down 0.4%) to 4 327 TWh. The drop in generation was caused by persistent droughts in hydropower-rich countries. At the same time, capacity additions in 2021 reached 35 GW, 50% higher than the average of the previous five years. However, severe draughts continue in 2022, which can result in continuation of below average generation.

In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, hydropower maintains an average annual generation growth rate of about 3% in 2022-2030 to provide approximately 5 700 TWh of electricity per year. In the last five years the growth rate was just one-third of what is required, signalling a need for significantly stronger efforts, especially to streamline permitting and ensure project sustainability.

Global net hydropower capacity additions by region, 1991-2030

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Without major policy changes, global hydropower expansion is expected to slow down this decade

Global hydropower capacity is set to increase by 17%, or 230 GW, between 2021 and 2030. However, net capacity additions over this period are forecast to decrease by 23% compared with the previous decade. The contraction results from slowdowns in the development of projects in China, Latin America and Europe. However, increasing growth in Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East partly offsets these declines. The IEA is providing the world’s first detailed forecasts to 2030 for three types of hydropower: reservoir, run-of-river and pumped storage plants. Reservoir hydropower plants account for half of net hydropower additions through 2030 in our forecast. Pumped storage hydropower plants represent 30% of net hydropower additions through 2030 in our forecast. Run-of-river hydropower remains the smallest growth segment because it includes many small-scale projects below 10 MW.

Hydropower and wind electricity generation growth in selected markets, 2015-2020 average and 2021

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Hydropower increased in 2020, generating more electricity then all other renewables combined

Hydropower generation increased 124 TWh (+3%) in 2020, reaching 4 418 TWh and remaining the largest renewable source of electricity, generating more than all other renewable technologies combined. After five consecutive years of decline, hydropower capacity additions rebounded in 2020 and reached 21 GW thanks to commissioning of several large power plants in China and Turkey. In 2021 however, severe drought conditions in Brazil, the United States, China and Turkey have limited global hydropower generation. As a result, our forecast expects hydropower generation to remain stable compared with 2020, ending the annual increases seen since 2001.
Our work on Hydropower

Hydropwer is the largest source of renewable electricity in the world and it is particularly suited to providing system flexibility. The Hydropower TCP is a global platform for advancing hydropower technology, encouraging the sustainable use of water resources for the development and management of hydropower.