Developing countries have long looked to hydropower as the answer to extend electricity access- but global droughts and greater awareness around its environmental impact have damaged its reputation as a reliable and ‘green’ energy source.
Currently, hydropower accounts for around 17 percent of electricity generation- approximately 1,200 GW of installed capacity. 14 out of 17 of the world’s poorest countries are overly dependent on hydropower- relying on it for over half of their electricity needs.
In recent years, a succession of long droughts have severely affected power supply for those relying on hydroelectricity, with notable examples being: Kenya, Malawi and Venezuela. These countries were hit by widespread power cuts that caused havoc for their fledgling industries and public services, with assembly lines grinding to a halt, foodstuffs spoiling in the heat, and surgeons forced to operate in the dark. Scenarios which are all unimaginable for those of us living in the developed world.
There has also been a growing awareness of the negative impact that dams and reservoirs can have on the environment. Flooding land for the reservoir can destroy forests, wildlife habitat and agricultural land. Recent studies show that the stagnant water encourages higher deposits of sediment and nutrients that damages aquatic life. Furthermore, there are cases of local people being resettled to other parts of the country that are unsuitable for their livelihoods.
Hydropower can play an important role in 24/7 electricity generation, as long as it is part of a diverse energy mix that includes conventional energy sources such as gas or coal. Without reliable power, poor countries will continue to be left behind and unable to develop economies and public services.