The Three Gorges Dam in China is the largest hydro-project in the world. Spanning 2.4 kilometres across the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, the dam captures 84.7 terawatts per hour (TWh) annually. China is, in fact, the world’s largest producer of hydroelectricity, generating 687 TWh in 2011, which accounts for 15% of China’s total electricity production. Hydropower actually makes up 6% of China’s total energy mix — more than both natural gas and nuclear power — and the Chinese government plans to increase its output to 325 gigawatts(GW) by 2015. For a country that is also the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, hydropower is a vital source of clean energy that can help Beijing combat the pervasive pollution that blankets many major Chinese urban centres.
China is one of the many countries eager to take advantage of their natural topography to tap a clean source of renewable energy. Across the globe, the use of hydropower is on the rise, as renewable sources of energy are touted as the most environmentally responsible alternative to finite carbon-emitting fossil fuels and a valuable tool in fighting climate change. The runoff produced by precipitation, rivers and other waterways around the world combine to create 16% of the world’s electricity every year, and more than 60 countries receive over half of their electricity through hydropower.
Hydropotential A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) starkly outlined the long-term economic, social and environmental costs the world will be forced to contend with if climate change is allowed to progress at its current rate. The report concluded that the effects of climate change will affect every facet of life if it is not proactively dealt with. These effects are before the increased demand for energy and a subsequent increase in carbon emissions are taken into account. The United Nations (UN) estimates that the world’s population will consume 50% more energy by 2035.
The increased application of renewable energy such as hydropower would simultaneously cut carbon emissions and reduce pollution whilst producing a renewable source of clean energy. The European Union (EU) has set targets for its members to meet 20% of their energy from renewables and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. Of new electricity generation in the EU, 72% was from renewables. The US Department of Energy has set its own targets to achieve 15% of the country’s electricity from hydropower by 2030 — it is currently 7%. Elsewhere around the world, countries are pledging to meet more and more of their energy needs through renewable energy sources.
Hydropower accounts for 74% of total renewable electricity generation. The International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental energy advisory the organization, wants to see the output of hydroelectricity doubled globally by 2050. As mentioned, 16% of the world’s electricity is generated by hydropower, but the current capacity could be tripled if all available resources were harnessed to generate approximately 15,000 TWh a year. Just this year, the global output of hydroelectricity reached 1,000 GW for the first time ever, so we believe that the hydropower continues to grow and will play a more and more important role all over the world.