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… as the global importance of hydro is underlined by IRENA

IRENA's Global Energy Outlook highlights the increased need for hydropower to provide sustainability and stability for future energy systems.

Meanwhile, IRENA’s Global Energy Outlook, also published on 20 April, reports that hydro capacity will need to increase by around 60 per cent by 2050, with pumped-storage capacity needing almost to triple, to help create a sustainable future energy system.

Around 850 GW of new hydrocapacity (both conventional and pumped storage), is required during the next 30 years, equivalent to around the entire power system capacity of the European Union in 2020. Policy makers and planners, however, need to start thinking now about new projects, owing to longer planning cycles for new hydropower and dam construction, it stressed in the report.

IRENA Director-General, France­sco La Camera, urges stimulus and recovery packages as a response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and to “accelerate the shift to sustainable, decarbonized economies and resi­lient inclusive societies”. Re­cov­ery measures should include investment in interconnected hydro­power, La Camera says. “Hydr­o­power, bioenergy, solar the­rmal and geothermal renewable energy all have significant scale-up potential, and represent more than 25 per cent of the mitigation potential in the Transforming Energy Scen­ario”, the report points out.

It is noted that hydropower can bring important synergies to the operation of power systems in the future, including cost-effectiveness to balance the variability of wind and solar generation, and seasonal complementarities in resource patterns. As a result, IRENA points out that “hydropower plants will also need operational changes that reflect changing power system needs, in­cluding faster and more frequent ramping, and planning practices that include evaluating the impacts of climate change on water supply and reservoir storage requirements”. The multipurpose benefits of hydropower infrastructure were also stressed.

The report also highlights the need for flexibility in power systems as a key enabler for the integration of high shares of variable renewable electricity. “Power systems must achieve maximum flexibility, based on current and ongoing innovations in technologies, business models, market design and system operation”, it said.

According to IRENA’s Transform­ing Energy Scenario, which the agency describes as “an ambitious, yet realistic, energy transformation pathway needed to keep the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C and towards 1.5°C during this century”, 73 per cent of the installed capacity and more than 60 per cent of all power generation would come from variable resources (solar and wind) by 2050, up from around 10 per cent today.

Under the Transforming Energy Scenario, global conventional hydro capacity would need to increase by 633 GW over the next 30 years: to 1444 GW by 2030 and 1822 GW by 2050. At present, under its Planned Energy Scenario, which is the primary reference case for this study, based on governments’ current energy plans and other planned targets and policies (as of 2019), including Nationally Determined Contrib­utions under the Paris Agreement, conventional global hydropower is forecast to increase to 1356 GW by 2030, and 1626 GW by 2050. Pumped-storage capacity is currently projected to increase from 121 GW as of 2019 to 200 GW by 2020 and 300 GW by 2050, but under the Transforming Energy Scenario would need to increase to 225 GW by 2030 and 325 GW by 2030.

According to the Scenario, the most significant increases in conventional hydro­power on a regional basis in percentage terms would be required in Sub-Saharan Africa and the area of Asia comprising Turkey, Central Asia and South Asia. Capacity increases in Sub-Saharan Africa would need to quadruple from 27 GW in 2017 to 108 GW by 2050, and more than double in the Asian countries mentioned above from 110 GW in 2017 to 240 GW by 2050. The largest increase in installed capacity terms by 2050 would be needed in East Asia, which would require an increase in capacity of 239 GW to 588 GW (from 349 GW) as of 2017, in Latin America and the Caribbean by 67 GW to 240 GW, and in Southeast Asia by 61 GW to 100 GW. Hydropower capacity would also need to increase by 46 GW in the nations of Europe outside the EU, by 13 GW in the EU, by 9 GW in Oceania and by 6 GW in the Middle East and North Africa.

In North America, IRENA expects hydropower capacity to increase from 177 GW in 2017 to 238 GW by 2030 before decreasing to 204 GW as of 2050.

IRENA’s Transforming Energy Scenario offers a sustainable, low-carbon and climate-safe foundation for stable, long-term economic dev­elopment, which it says would be sufficient to keep global warming this century “well below 2°C” in line with the Paris Agreement. Its roadmap would result in a reduction of 70 per cent in the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050, more than 90 per cent of which would be achieved through renewables and energy efficiency.

In addition, the transition promises higher economic growth, more jobs, cleaner living conditions and significantly improved welfare.

The plan, for example, projects the number of jobs in the energy sector to increase by 40 million and reach 100 million by 2050, of which 42 million globally will be in renewables, four times more than today.