Hydropower – more energy for the world's climate

21st UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) started in Paris

Hydropower – more energy for the world's climate

The 21st UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) started in Paris

From 30th November to 11th December 2015, Paris is playing host to the 21st UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21). About 150 heads of state and government are gathered for the occasion. Delegates from all 195 member states of the UN Climate Change Convention will attempt to agree on a follow-up agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol with binding climate protection goals.

Just one of the important goals of COP21: to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, worldwide emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, must be reduced by 40 up to 70 percent (compared to 2010 figures) by 2050.

An ambitious undertaking. Above all, this will require a radical overhaul of power generation. According to figures from organisations like the Institute for Climate Economics, global CO2 emissions caused by power generation have risen by 79 percent since 1990.

A sustainable and clean energy supply – initiatives in particular to save energy, improve energy efficiency and rapidly expand power generation based on renewable energies – is, thus, one of the most crucial factors in achieving the climate goals.

Limiting global warming – hydropower plays an important role

Hydropower especially plays a key role in sustainable and environmentally-friendly power generation from regenerative energies. Over 80 percent of the renewable energy produced in the world today already comes from hydropower.

Hydropower is one of the most attractive and most reliable forms of energy – and offers four major advantages:

  • It produces very little CO2
  • It is infinitely available
  • It delivers baseload capacity, i.e. it is a reliable source compared to wind or solar
  • It can be stored

Hydropower plants are also one of the most commercially profitable energy producers: they are the most effective of all known types of power generation. Hydropower is currently the only regenerative energy source that delivers power on an industrial scale at competitive prices.

Supplying energy through hydropower is also a precursor to economic growth and social development: in Africa or Asia, for example, small hydropower plants can replace conventional and harmful energy producers like diesel generators – and guarantee a long-lasting clean, reliable and cost-effective power supply.

More about the advantages of producing energy from hydropower at www.wasserkraft.info.

Nine good reasons for hydropower

„There is no way to achieve the global climate goals without hydropower“

Safe, clean, reliable, always available – the advantages of a sustainable energy supply from hydropower are self-evident. Dr Roland Münch, Member Board of Management of Voith GmbH & Co. KGaA and CEO of Voith Hydro, explains how hydropower can contribute to climate protection.

1. The 21st UN Conference on Climate Change has begun. What specific results do you expect?

The consequences of climate change were also clear to see all over the world in 2015. I am thinking of the long period of drought in California, typhoons in Asia, heatwaves and flooding in Europe. We must stop this development. We must think of future generations. Accordingly, I hope that the different nations will actually now agree on binding and realistic targets. And do everything in their power to achieve the 2-degree goal. Above all though, I hope that all nations will act consistently and stick to these agreements. That only works when everyone – that is players from politics, business and society – work together as one.

2. What do you think is the first thing we must tackle to achieve one of the goals, of limiting global warming to two degrees?

There have to be practicable compromises that everyone can get on board with. That means we have to seek and find compromises together: developing and newly industrialised countries need a reliable and stable energy supply for further economic growth and advances in social development: they cannot expand the infrastructure they need – energy and transport networks, educational facilities, hospitals etc. – without a stable energy supply. And without infrastructure there cannot be a sustainably functioning economy nor functioning social systems. It is clear that every country has a right to develop; we cannot deprive any citizen of this earth of that.

3. What role does the use of hydropower play in newly industrialised countries?

In contrast to energy producers like diesel generators, hydropower is an attractive, promising and sustainable alternative, especially for countries in Asia, Africa or South America. Power from diesel generators produces harmful CO2 emissions, is expensive, and the fuel is difficult to obtain in many places. There is considerable potential for small and large power plants in many countries.

4. What specific contribution do you believe hydropower can make here?

Hydropower has immense advantages. Firstly: generating energy from hydropower is versatile: large hydropower plants can meet the energy demand of emergent nations like Brazil or China, while small hydropower plants facilitate a local and decentralised power supply. Secondly: hydropower is able deliver baseload capacity. In contrast to wind or solar, hydropower is always available and is not subject to fluctuations. And in turn it's also reliably available. Thirdly: water can be stored better than almost any other energy source. And fourthly: hydropower plants are highly effective, have an extremely long service life and are very attractive commercially. A few hydropower plants, like Niagara Falls, have been in operation for more than 100 years.

5. What initiatives are required to promote and increase the role of hydropower as an important and reliable component of the global energy mix?

A strong political will is needed to achieve the goals. Planning procedures, for example, for hydropower projects can take several years. Something needs to change here in the legislation of many countries. The will to cooperate efficiently across borders without bureaucratic red tape and restrictions is also essential if the role of hydropower is to be expanded. Think about the possibilities for storage in the mountains – Austria and Switzerland could store power from and for Germany. Financing is another significant theme. Long-term and robust financing concepts are the only way to guarantee that the environmental and sustainability standards we are used to in Europe will be applied in the projects. Of course, the financing must also cover the project risks.

It is clear: hydropower still has a great deal of potential. An example: the current installed output in Africa amounts to 26 gigawatts, while approx. 435 gigawatts is technically feasible. And there is still unused potential even in a country like Germany: there are 50,000 dams across the country and only 7,000 of these are used energetically to generate power.

At Voith we are ready: we are globally active and have the necessary expertise to deliver the right technologies for every project and every possible application. We want to play our part to make the decisive step towards sustainable power generation and greenhouse gas reduction. We want to stop climate change.