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Achieving Sustainable Development Goals

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

As Rio+20 closes its doors, the latest high-profile summit designed to deliver a comprehensive sustainability agenda has ended with some success. Inevitably, a key area of concern is access to energy, and to that end United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented his Sustainable Energy for All initiative. This plan sets out three objectives, all to be achieved by 2030, including ensuring energy access, doubling energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy.

Supporting this initiative, businesses and investors have already committed more than US$50 billion, joining tens of billions of dollars from other key stakeholders such as governments, multilateral development banks and civil society organizations. Development banks have, for example, committed more than $30 billion toward achieving Sustainable Energy for All's three objectives, while other notable pledges have been received from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Duke Energy, Eskom, Schneider Electric, Siemens, SKF and many others.

And, according to the UN, more than a billion people will benefit from improved access to energy through grid extension and off-grid solutions, as well scaled-up renewable energy sources, increased investment and improved energy policies.

Indeed, host country Brazil says it will invest $235 billion over 10 years in renewable energy, mainly in hydropower and biofuels. Additionally, Brazil is to invest a further $4.3 billion to achieve universal energy access in the country by 2014. For more on Brazilian plans for sustainable energy development, see our executive interview with Eletrobras President Jose da Costa Carvalho Neto on page 34.

Considering the role of hydro in achieving the key development goals for the world's population, it is clear that large hydro is already at the heart of sustainable energy for all. According to the latest REN21 Renewables Global Status Report, renewables accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 GW of new electricity generating capacity added globally during 2011. Although wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) respectively accounted for almost 40% and 30% of this new renewable capacity, new hydropower additions provided nearly 25%.

Overall, the analysis finds, hydropower is growing globally at a rate averaging 2%–3% per year, with an estimated 25 GW of new hydropower capacity coming on line in 2011, increasing the total installed capacity by nearly 2.7% to about 970 GW. Growing steadily from a large base, hydropower supplied about 3.3% of global final energy consumption in the year, and hydro continues to generate more electricity than any other renewable resource, with an estimated 3,400 TWh produced during 2011.

The scale of hydropower's contribution is highlighted by the generation figures for the world's largest hydropower countries. For example, hydropower produced about 663 TWh in China in 2011, followed by Brazil with 450 TWh, Canada at 373 TWh, the USA with 325 TWh and Russia with 153 TWh. Collectively, these top five countries account for more than half of the total installed capacity worldwide, but these are certainly impressive numbers nonetheless.

However, perhaps the most telling statistic to emerge from the REN21 report concerns investment. It finds that globally, new investment in renewables rose 17% in 2011 to a record US$257 billion. And, including large hydropower, net investment in renewable power capacity was some $40 billion higher than net investment in fossil fuel capacity over the year. Even with a suggested 25% nominal share of the total, this presents a compelling argument that, far from being sidelined as a stale and environmentally damaging technology, hydropower is in fact – and quite rightly – central to achieving the goal of sustainable energy development for all and is able to maintain very high levels of investor interest.

This argument is given further weight when it is revealed that the bulk of new hydro capacity development is taking place in developing countries and in regions such as Asia and Latin America. For example, China continued to make significant hydro capacity additions in 2011, installing some 12.3 GW, and was followed by Vietnam, Brazil and India. Malaysia also realized significant new hydropower generation capacity over the year.

This theme of sustainable and environmentally responsible hydro development is explored in more depth in our cover feature for this edition on page 14, which takes a detailed look at the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Filled with possibilities when it comes to hydropower development, it appears that a number of concerns relating to sustainability can make building new hydro facilities along the course of this mighty river a tricky and uncertain endeavor.

It is clear from events in Rio de Janeiro that the sustainable development agenda and sustainable energy for all is high on the list of global priorities for the world's policymakers. And it is also clear that hydropower is already there.

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