Can you tell us about the history of the International Hydropower Association (IHA)?
The International Hydropower Association (IHA) was formed on 16 November 1995 as a non-profit mutual association of members. Our mission is to advance sustainable hydropower by building and sharing knowledge on its role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management, and climate change solutions. In the two decades since we were formed, the hydropower sector has seen huge growth – doubling in size from 625 GW to over 1,250 GW today.
With this growth has come extra scrutiny of the way in which hydropower projects are planned, financed, developed, and operated. A key moment came in 2000 with the publication of a landmark report by the World Commission on Dams which signalled a new era for hydropower, with greater focus on environmental management and local benefit sharing.
Over the past two and a half decades, our broad coalition of forward-thinking corporate members and committed individual members has built strong partnerships with leaders in government, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society. We have worked hard to champion sustainability principles in hydropower and share good and best practices, with the goal of supporting the skills development of professionals and lifting the performance of the sector as a whole.
IHA is hosting the World Hydropower Congress in Paris between 14-16 May. Can you tell us about the event?
Our first world congress was hosted in Turkey in 2007 with the aim of bringing together leading decision-makers, innovators, and experts from across the sector to discuss challenges and opportunities in developing and operating hydropower today. The World Hydropower Congress has since been convened every two years in Iceland, Brazil, Malaysia, China, and Ethiopia. It has emerged as a truly multi-sectoral event, drawing high-level stakeholders from industry, government, finance, NGOs, and academia.
We are delighted to host the 2019 World Hydropower Congress in Paris. Four years ago, in 2015, the French capital hosted the historic United Nations Climate Conference (COP21), at which the Paris Agreement was made to limit global emissions. So it is fitting that, this year, the city gives the stage to the hydropower sector, the world’s largest source of renewable electricity generation.
The theme of the congress is ‘The Power of Water in a Sustainable, Interconnected World’, which will focus attention on hydropower’s role in delivering on the Paris Agreement, as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Delegates have an unparalleled opportunity to exchange experiences and advance strategies that support hydropower project planning, development, and operation.
As the organizer, we pride ourselves on the knowledge sharing, capacity building, and stakeholder dialogue which are at the heart of every World Hydropower Congress. Focus sessions and workshops are co-convened with knowledge partners that bring a depth of understanding to each topic. Partners include United Nations organizations, financial institutions, intergovernmental agencies, and research institutes. We are especially grateful to have the support of leading organizations, including our strategic partners CTG, EDF, GE, Itaipu Binacional, The Nature Conservancy, and Sarawak Energy, and our supporting partners Alpiq, CSHE, EDP, Voith, and Statkraft.
How can hydropower help deliver on the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Without hydropower, it is hard to see how the targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals could be reached. In a world in which almost 1 billion people still do not have access to electricity and 2.1 billion are without safely-managed water services, hydropower is a reliable and affordable source of low-carbon power and freshwater management.
Hydropower has an integral role to play in the transition to the low carbon economy, contributing nearly two-thirds of renewable electricity generation. As well as reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and limiting air pollution, hydropower supports growth in solar and wind power through its flexibility in dispatch and clean energy storage.
Where a project is planned, developed, and operated sustainably, it can offer multiple benefits including economic development, widening access to electricity, lifting people out of poverty, and protecting vulnerable communities against the risk of drought and floods. As climate change evolves with greater probability of more extreme weather events, safely-managed water storage provided by hydropower projects will become even more essential.
In Africa, many countries are embracing hydropower to meet electricity demand. At the World Hydropower Congress, we will examine how project benefits can be shared, looking at success stories from Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Ghana, among other countries, and how other regions can learn from these experiences.
How can hydropower developers involve communities and ensure that hydroelectric plants have direct benefits to local people?
We encourage hydropower developers and operators to draw upon international good practice when planning and implementing hydropower projects and engaging and consulting affected communities. The Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines on good international industry practice, launched in December 2018, define expected performance and are an essential guide in this regard.
The Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines are supported by assessment tools such as the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol for measuring performance, and the Hydropower Sustainability ESG Gap Analysis Tool which allows project proponents and investors to identify and address gaps against good practice.
The sustainability tools look at the different stages of a hydropower project’s lifecycle, from planning and preparation to implementation and operation. The tools consider concerns and opportunities across 26 topics, including safety, cultural heritage, resettlement, and environmental protection, as well as the economic and social benefits associated with project development.
The tools are applicable in both developing and developed country contexts, and are aligned with standards developed by the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and the Equator Principles group of commercial banks.
What other challenges does the hydropower sector face?
Delegates at the World Hydropower Congress will hear about an array of challenges faced by the hydropower sector today, including the need to modernize aging infrastructure, adapt to a revolution in available digital technologies, and to build resilience to the changing climate.
Participants will learn about opportunities for hydropower in the energy transition. The rapid growth of variable renewables such as wind and solar power mean hydropower’s flexibility and storage services will be in increasing demand, and coupling hydropower projects with solar photovoltaics and wind projects presents a real opportunity to scale up deployment around the world.
Markets and regulatory systems however need to keep pace with changes to the energy system. Globally, there is demand for private sector involvement in hydropower development, especially in developing countries where public funds are scarce. But it can be hard to attract this investment where the risk profile attached to hydropower is poorly understood.
As an association, we provide value by helping the hydropower sector to prepare for and adapt to these challenges and opportunities. Our knowledge sharing programs increase awareness of hydropower’s role in clean energy systems and sustainable development and the importance of collaborative, adaptive approaches to river basin development and regional energy interconnections.
IHA’s Knowledge Networks have identified good practice around managing hydropower assets and have helped to develop tools for dealing with a variety of challenges, such as assessing the carbon footprint of reservoirs. Recognizing that investment in hydropower is essential if the world is to meet global climate targets, we are also working with partners to agree criteria for hydropower-eligible green bonds.The 2019 Hydropower Status Report, to be launched at the World Hydropower Congress, looks in-depth at the latest trends in hydropower development. The report features policy perspectives from leading government ministers with responsibility for water and energy, and provides the latest installed capacity and generation data from around the world. The report can be downloaded for free from our website: www.hydropower.org.
The 7th World Hydropower Congress will be held in Paris from 14 to 16 May 2019. A series of articles from IHA member organisations will follow in Sustainable Business Magazine later in 2019.