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High-resolution assessment of global technical and economic hydropower potential


Hydropower is the most important renewable energy source to date, providing over 72% of all renewable electricity globally. Yet, only limited information is available on the global potential supply of hydropower and the associated costs. Here we provide a high-resolution assessment of the technical and economic potential of hydropower at a near-global scale. Using 15”×15” discharge and 3”×3” digital elevation maps, we built virtual hydropower installations at >3.8 million sites across the globe and calculated their potential using cost optimization methods. This way we identified over 60,000 suitable sites, which together represent a remaining global potential of 9.49 PWh yr−1 below US$0.50 kWh−1. The largest remaining potential is found in Asia Pacific (39%), South America (25%) and Africa (24%), of which a large part can be produced at low cost (<US$0.10 kWh−1). In an ecological scenario, this potential is reduced to 5.67 PWh yr−1.

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C. Ettema is acknowledged for editing part of the manuscript. Moreover, the study benefitted from FP7/2007-2013 financial support under grant agreement number 308329 (ADVANCE).

Author information

D.E.H.J.G. and P.W.B. conceived the idea and developed the modelling techniques. D.P.v.V. assisted in refining the idea and manuscript. H.B. provided climate input data and R.N. assisted in preparatory analyses. D.E.H.J.G. drafted the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Correspondence to David E. H. J. Gernaat.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Global and regional cost–supply curves and their geographic locations.
Fig. 2: Remaining and calculated existing hydropower potential of the ten largest basins per continent.
Fig. 3: Sensitivity of the remaining potential by parameter settings and climate change.