Can you even have sustainability and hydropower in the same sentence? It’s a question that for years has challenged development practitioners (and bolstered critics) of this renewable source of energy. But the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is taking steps to help answer this question.
Hydropower can be massive in scale. In 2018, electricity generation from hydropower reached an estimated 4,200-terawatt hours (TWh), setting the highest ever contribution from a renewable energy source (International Hydropower Association, 2019). That’s enough to power more than 1.3 billion households per year (Based on the global consumption average of 3,132kWh per capita) (The World Bank, 2019).
Generating such incredible amounts of electricity requires infrastructure, which in turn generates impacts. Hydropower facilities can affect land use, homes, and natural habitats in the dam area. They can restrict the passage of fish and even change the water quality downstream. So, is the reward worth the impact? Can you in fact have hydropower that is not only sustainable but can also improve lives beyond the provision of electricity? The answers lie in how well you manage and mitigate the environmental and social risks.