How to build more hydropower

Adding terawatts of hydropower capacity doesn’t have to increase ecosystem impacts.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Hydropower is the world’s largest source of renewable electricity today, according to the International Energy Agency. Like gas peaker plants, it’s highly dispatchable, meaning it can complement intermittent renewables like wind and solar. 

And we could get a lot more of it. The IEA estimates that we could double the amount of hydro-generated energy produced globally. One peer-reviewed study found that global economic potential for hydropower was 21,000 terawatt hours, more than five times the current generation today. 

So how could we deploy more capacity?

In this episode, guest host Lara Pierpoint talks to Gia Schneider, co-founder and CEO of Natel Energy, a hydropower technology company. One key argument Gia makes is that if we can build smaller projects with lower ecosystem impacts, we can tap into more zero-carbon power. 

Gia and Lara talk through: 

  • How quickly we need to build more hydropower to meet 2050 net-zero targets

  • The benefits of traditional hydro as a full-stack grid resource

  • Different types of hydro technology like run-of-river, hydrokinetic and traditional large-scale dams

  • Why smaller, more distributed systems are key to unlocking hydropower potential

  • Different technologies to manage fish and debris, like bypass channels, screens and fish-safe turbines

  • The co-benefits of improving riverine landscapes, including making ecosystems and hydroelectric infrastructure more resilient to climate change

  • How hydrology and forecasting can help us better manage dams in a changing climate

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Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Support for Catalyst comes from Climate Positive, a podcast by HASI that features candid conversations with the leaders, innovators and changemakers who are at the forefront of the transition to a sustainable economy. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrids, the distributed-energy company dedicated to transforming the way modern energy infrastructure is designed, constructed and financed. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes it easy. Learn more: scalemicrogrids.com.