Hydropower is a unique renewable energy technology, utilising the force of flowing water to generate low-carbon power. There are more than 1.2 million megawatts (MW) of installed hydropower capacity in the world today according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), making it the most widespread renewable energy technology. Hydropower accounts for almost half (43%) of total installed renewable capacity globally.
Humankind has been leveraging the force of water to power machinery for over 2,000 years. What began as an innovation used to power mills to grind grain has evolved into a state-of-the-art global power industry that delivers low-carbon power.
This technology can deliver everything from micro-power sources in remote villages to huge, centralised generation capacity. Hydropower drives the largest power station in the world—China’s Three Gorges Damn—with an installed capacity of 22.5 gigawatts, almost equal to the total installed capacity of Peninsular Malaysia.
Hydropower is a fundamental pillar of Malaysia’s own power generation landscape, with a total installed capacity of 6,275MW across Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak. Developing this powerful technology on a significant scale often requires an important balance between the opportunity for low-carbon power, and protecting ecological systems and communities.
These innovative hydropower solutions also help to keep the lights on in communities.
When delivered in the right way, it is an important part of Malaysia’s goal of achieving 31% renewable share of power generation by 2025. The Ulu Jelai Hydroelectric project for example added 372 megawatts of power to national supply, at the same time reducing around 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year through displacement of fossil fuel generation.
Hydroelectric dams can have wider community benefits too, with the Hulu Terengganu dam providing an economic boost to the local communities through ‘catch and release’ sport fishing. Besides the intended initiative of curbing overfishing, catch and release has encouraged eco-tourism with a cumulative gross income of RM 115,852 from June 2018 to June 2019.
Additionally, in Sungai Perak Hydroelectric Station, a program called Fish Resources Management Plan was created for a sustainable hydroelectric operation model to develop potential economic growth that would benefit the local community through the Community Based Tourism programme.
On top of that, the surrounding mangrove area at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Power Station in Kapar, was developed to become a migratory bird’s sanctuary, that included endangered species like Malaysian Plover, Nordmann’s Greenshank and Chinese Egret. These birds flew all the way from Siberia, Alaska, Mongolia and China. To conserve the habitat, TNB worked closely with East Asean Australasian Shorebird network.
Hydropower can also offer small but powerful solutions alongside major developments, with micro-hydro providing a sustainable, distributed energy source to power communities in areas like on Tioman Island. These innovative hydropower solutions also help to keep the lights on in communities such as the Orang Asli settlement Kampung Sungai Delam, in Bentong. These vital power interventions help with the fundamental needs of modern life, from simple power for everyday needs to the essential provision of illumination that enables children to study.
With the importance of hydropower as a source of reliable, low-carbon power, it’s time to dive into insight with our hydropower 101 infographic.