Hydroelectric power: Challenges in the 21st Century


Hydroelectric power has been around for a long time. You might say that, along with windpower, it’s one of the original sources of clean energy. More than 2,000 years ago, the Greeks were using water wheels to grind grain into flour. Jumping forward all the way to the eighteenth century, French engineer, Bernard Forest de Bélidor came up with the design for the water-driven turbine. In the late 1800s turbines started to come into use to generate electricity. Some of those machines are still in use today.

According to the International Energy Agency, 17 percent of the world’s electricity is generated from hydroelectric sources. As the planet moves towards greater and greater levels of renewable energy use, hydroelectric power will become the cornerstone upon which many countries base their energy strategy.

There are some very impressive hydroelectric facilities at work right now:

  • The Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River has an installed capacity of 22,500 Megawatts (MW).
  • The Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River is operated jointly by Brazil and Paraguay. The two countries share in the power generated by the facility which actually produces more energy than Three Gorges despite having a smaller installed capacity. The reason being that the Paraná River has less seasonal variation than the Yangtze.
  • Also in China, the Jinsha River’s Xiluodu Dam is the world’s third largest hydropower generator with a 13,860 MW capacity.

But can hydropower, like that generated by these and other similar installations around the world, really be counted on in the changeover from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Will water resources even be available to generate electricity when so many other demands are being placed on them?

Water scarcity is a major challenge that’s affecting hundreds of millions of people. In some cases countries that rely on hydroelectric dams to generate power are facing shortages of drinking, sanitation and irrigation water. For example, the Tarbela Dam in Pakistan has an installed capacity of around 3,500 MW (with plans to increase capacity to 6,300 MW). The dam is critical to the country’s energy generation scheme and even though water used to generate electricity can be reused downstream for other purposes, the investment needed to expand the dam may push other water projects onto the backburner. Pakistan already faces challenges related to lack of water treatment and supply infrastucture.

These are the kinds of issues likely to be faced around the world as people increasingly look to hydropower as an energy resource while still relying on water supplies for drinking, cleaning and growing food. At LuminUltra, we understand the precious nature of water. We’re working every day to help our clients use their water resources more effectively.


Stacey Pineau

Clearly explaining complex topics has been Stacey’s focus for close to 25 years now. She helps plan how best to reach the right people, then works to provide them with relevant information that’s easy to understand. Stacey is a team player with an entrepreneurial spirit. She has broad experience that spans the private and public sectors. A lover of words, Stacey has a slightly irrational love of the library and a personal collection of way too many books and magazines. She lives in Fredericton with her husband Ray, their two children and dog Scouty.

Related Posts

Water and the Olympics

  At the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, hundreds of millions of people around the world watched as athletes competed in dozens of sports over two weeks. For some sports, water (usually in the form of snow or ice) is crucial. Where the Summer Olympics need pools and lakes filled with clean water for… Read More

Welcome to Microbiology 1001

  My first full-time job after obtaining my degree in Chemical Engineering started out intimidating, but who ever thought starting off a career in applied microbiology would be easy. As I move through the introductory period of my position – where learning all I can about the field is of top priority – the intimidating… Read More