A new report by researchers from the International Hydropower Association (IHA) has found there will be an over 300GW shortfall in the amount of hydropower needed to limit dangerous global warming.

The report – Hydropower 2050: Identifying the next 850+ GW towards 2050 – assesses pathways to net zero modelled by the IEA and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), against current and future planned hydropower capacity.

Both IEA and IRENA models assess that in order to keep global warming to below 2°C, around 850GW of new hydropower capacity will be required by 2050. More than 500GW of hydropower installations are in the pipeline worldwide, but this leaves a gape of more than 300GW says the report. For the more ambitious net zero target to limit temperature rise to below 1.5°C, more than 1,200 GW of additional hydropower capacity will be needed – leaving a gap of over 600 GW.

“Hydropower’s highly flexible, low carbon generation and storage capabilities will have an essential part to play in the electricity grids of the future,” commented one of the report’s authors, Alex Campbell, Head of Research and Policy at IHA. “Our analysis shows that, even if we built all the 500+ GW of projects in the pipeline, we will still be a long way short of the sustainable hydropower required to keep global warming below 2 degrees, let alone achieve net zero emissions. Policy-makers need to take urgent action now to bridge this gap.” 

Among the more than 500 GW in the pipeline, just 156 GW of this is under construction, with another 165 GW approved by regulators. The rest has been announced or is pending approval. 

This remains significantly below the contribution required from hydropower under the IEA and IRENA models to reach net zero emissions. In 2020, annual growth in installed capacity was just 1.6 per cent – lower than the minimum 2 per cent growth required.

Led by demand in China, the East Asia and Pacific region has 240 GW of future projected capacity planned, permitted or under construction. The next few years could see sizeable growth in Africa’s hydropower capacity, with 118 GW currently in the pipeline. In addition, South and Central Asia will see 91 GW in additional capacity.

Lord Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, will lead a panel discussion of the report’s findings at a free online session at 16:00 GMT+1, with senior representatives from the International Energy Agency (IEA), IHA, World Bank and China Three Gorges Corporation. Register or login to the event here.