Video: in conversation with Keisuke Sadamori, Director for Energy Markets and Security, IEA

On the eve of the first ever Global Hydropower Day, International Hydropower Association (IHA) CEO Eddie Rich met Keisuke Sadamori, Director for Energy Markets and Security at the International Energy Agency (IEA), to discuss hydropower’s role in addressing the world’s climate challenges.

You can watch the conversation in full here:

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Last year, IEA published its first ever market report dedicated to hydropower: the Hydropower Special Market Report.  

“The aim of this report is to raise awareness of the multiple important roles that hydropower plays in the global energy transition,” explained Mr Sadamori.

Continuing, he highlighted two important main roles for hydropower, firstly as a source of low-carbon electricity, and secondly as one of the largest sources of system flexibility. “It is dispatchable, can ramp up and down quickly, and provide storage,” he said. “This will be critical to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

“Much needed flexible electricity supply to keep the lights on”

Speaking about the human benefits of hydropower, Mr Sadamori pointed towards its role in enabling electricity security. “This is crucially important in the energy transition, as wind and solar bring new integration challenges due to their variability.

“During the Covid-19 lockdowns, hydropower provided much needed flexible electricity supply to keep the lights on while people worked from home, by responding quickly to adjust to lower demand and higher solar and wind share.”

Mr Sadamori spoke about the role of hydropower as a “cost-effective way to increase electricity access in emerging economies, particularly in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the potential of hydro is still huge, and access to electricity is still lacking or is insufficient.”

He also discussed the multi-purpose benefits that hydropower can uniquely provide: “Investment in reservoir hydropower can provide many non-energy benefits to society, such as agricultural irrigation, water supply, transport and navigation, flood control, and recreation and tourism.”

“Even at this pace, we would still need faster growth to reach net zero”

While IEA projects that hydropower growth is set to slow down globally in 2021–30 in comparison to the previous decade, the forecasts are nuanced at a regional level.

“There are regions where development is growing, such as Asia–Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Mr Sadamori. “Emerging economies and developing countries will account for almost 90% of all hydro expansion in the next decade.”

He emphasised the need to address a series of barriers in order to unlock hydropower development and enable net zero: “Despite the attractiveness of hydropower investments in developing countries, developers face economic risks, policy uncertainties, and long permitting and construction times.  

“Should governments be able to address these challenges, we could see 40% more growth with access to affordable financing, streamlined permitting and improved market designs.”

While measures such as these would help to spur progress, Mr Sadamori said that more ambition would still be needed. “Even at this pace, we would still need faster growth to reach net zero by 2050,” he said. “We would need almost 500 GW added by 2030, and that’s almost twice as much as our forecast.

“This requires governments to do more than policy and market improvements, but to increase their ambitions for future hydropower developments.”

“Governments need to prioritise policy and regulatory changes”

“Hydropower does and can continue to play a very valuable and important role in achieving net zero emissions,” said Mr Sadamori, “but governments need to prioritise policy and regulatory changes to get there.”

IEA’s Hydropower Special Market Report outlines seven priority areas for action in its executive summary. They are:

  1. Move hydropower up the energy and climate policy agenda
  2. Enforce robust sustainability standards for all hydropower development with streamlined rules and regulations
  3. Recognise the critical role of hydropower for electricity security and reflect its value through remuneration mechanisms
  4. Maximise the flexibility capabilities of existing hydropower plants through measures to incentivise their modernisation
  5. Support the expansion of pumped storage hydropower
  6. Mobilise affordable financing for sustainable hydropower development in developing economies
  7. Take steps to ensure to price in the value of the multiple public benefits provided by hydropower plants

You can find analysis of the latest progress in hydropower development globally in IHA’s 2022 Hydropower Status Report.

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