According to the report, hydropower use reached a record 3427TWhr, or about 16.1% of global electricity consumption, by the end of 2010, continuing the rapid rate of increase experienced between 2003 and 2009. The cost of hydropower is relatively low, making it a competitive source of renewable electricity, adds the report. The average cost of electricity from a hydro plant larger than 10MW is 3 to 5 US cents per kWh.

“In the future, hydropower is likely to continue to grow- – despite the environmental challenges involved in expanding it – because of its competitive price and climate benefits, which make it an attractive option as countries seek to lower their greenhouse gas emissions,” said report author Matt Lucky, a Worldwatch MAP Sustainable Energy Fellow.

China was the largest hydropower producer and is expected to continue to lead global hydro use in the coming years. The country produced 721TWh in 2010, representing around 17% of domestic electricity use. China also had the highest installed hydropower capacity, with 213GW at the end of 2010. It added more hydro capacity than any other country, 16GW in 2010, and plans to add 140GW by 2015. Hydropower is produced in at least 150 countries but is concentrated in just a few countries and regions. The Asia-Pacific region generated roughly 32% of global hydropower in 2010. Africa produces the least hydropower, accounting for 3% of the world total, but is considered the region with the greatest potential for increased production. In 2008, four countries – Albania, Bhutan, Lesotho, and Paraguay – generated all their electricity from hydropower, and 15 countries generated at least 90 percent of their electricity from hydro. Iceland, New Zealand, and Norway produce the most hydropower per capita. Micro-hydropower has grown in importance over the last decade and can be an effective means of providing electricity to communities far from industrial centers. As of 2009, roughly 60GW of small hydro was installed worldwide, accounting for less than 6% of the hydropower total. Small hydro is likely to expand, especially as populous countries like India continue to pursue rural electrification.

Further highlights from the study include:

• China, Brazil, the US, Canada, and Russia accounted for approximately 52% of the world’s installed hydropower capacity in 2010.

• A total of $40-45B was invested in large hydropower projects worldwide in 2010.