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Hydropower – building power system resilience and energy security

Developed by the Resources to Advance LEDS Implementation (RALI) project, with support from USAID, this paper informs energy planners and investors on: 1) how climate change can affect power generation resources, particularly hydropower resources; and 2) an approach that can be taken to address climate change risks, both at the project and sector level, to improve power system resilience and enhance energy security. 

As a clean and renewable energy source, hydropower can be a cornerstone of low emission development strategies (LEDS), helping countries enhance energy security and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Energy security has regained interest because of ever increasing demands for energy, aspirations to provide energy access for all, worries about global scarcity of fossil fuels, and environmental concerns related to fossil fuel use. As countries strive to meet national development goals including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), win-win solutions are needed more than ever.

Hydropower development has been growing rapidly worldwide. In 2015, an estimated 33 gigawatts (GW) of capacity was put into operation globally—most notably in China (19.4 GW), other countries in Asia (8.2 GW), and South America (3.4 GW). As the region focuses on achieving energy security, hydropower investment is also expected to increase throughout Africa, with significant projects currently underway in Ethiopia and Congo.

Yet hydropower faces challenges associated with climate change. Changing precipitation patterns, increases in temperature, more frequent and intense droughts, extreme weather events, sea level rises, and resulting flooding and landslides can all affect hydroelectricity generation capacity, damage infrastructure, disrupt service, and lead to difficulties in meeting environmental regulations. Many investors, managers, and operators of hydropower facilities do not yet consider projected changes in climate and weather as part of a business risk analysis or in power planning. Unless these risks are addressed, the intended benefits of hydropower may be short-lived.

To help address this challenge, ‘Addressing Climate Vulnerability for Power System Resilience and Energy Security: A Focus on Hydropower Resources’ outlines a four-step approach for integrating climate resilience approaches into power planning, by iteratively identifying and managing climate risks to better ensure long term energy security and sustainability.

These steps involve: (1) assessment of climate risks and vulnerabilities; (2) identification, evaluation, and prioritization of options to address climate risks; (3) integration of climate change considerations into project implementation, power planning, and operations and maintenance; and (4) monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting plans over time. The paper provides key resources to help planners and investors undertake these steps. The paper also emphasizes that detailed local assessments, as well as explicit consideration of tradeoffs associated with different investment alternatives, are critical to providing greater understanding of climate vulnerabilities and identifying feasible planning and management measures.

Download the full paper here

Photo: Asian Development Bank/Flickr