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Hydroelectric Power, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Of all renewable energy sources, hydroelectric has proven to be one of the most reliable, controllable and cost-effective, as well as the most viable alternative fossil fuel energy.  The Energy Institute reported that global hydroelectric consumption fell from 41.21 exajoules in 2020 to 40.40 exajoules in 2021.  Consumption rose in 2022 to 40.68 exajoules.  During 2022, hydroelectric accounted for 11% of U.S. renewable energy consumption.  Costs are extremely low, in the two cent per kilowatt hour range.   Unfortunately, potential locations for new hydrodams are limited, and there is little projected growth in large installations in the U.S.  However, microhydro power has been of long-term interest to landowners and investors.  That is the use of small turbines installed on creeks and streams that have reliable flow.
About 60% of America’s hydro power is owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  Washington State is the largest American hydro power producer, primarily on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  Elsewhere in North America, Canada generates about 60% of its electricity via hydroelectric means.
In other countries, there is much new hydro development under consideration or construction.  Although most industrialized countries have already realized their full potential for hydro generation, many developing countries are just getting started.  For example, China, already a major producer of hydropower, completed the enormous Three Gorges Dam.  In 2012, the dam became fully operational at its peak generation capacity of 22.5 gigawatts, and it is one of the largest single sources of electricity in the world by total capacity.  Due to China’s intense modernization and rapidly growing thirst for energy, this project is of great importance to the future development of the nation.  Nonetheless, there was worldwide protest over the fact that 1.3 million people were displaced from homes in the path of the reservoir created by the dam. 
Brazil, long a world leader in hydropower, gets about 60% of its total electricity generation from hydroelectricity.  Brazil’s Belo Monte plant, which was completed in November 2019, has maximum output of 11,233 megawatts (placing it third in the world with regard to capacity behind Three Gorges and Itaipu, which is on the Brazil-Paraguay border).  However, this maximum output can only be reached during peak water flow, and output on a typical day is more like 4,571 megawatts.
Meanwhile, over the mid-term, China plans to triple its total national hydroelectric generation to 300 gigawatts as part of its long-term goal to get 15% of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by that year.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report in late 2012 that stated that global hydroelectricity production could double by 2050 if certain environmental issues are resolved and public acceptance increases.


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