The Hydropower Sustainability Standard, launched at the World Hydropower Congress on 8 September 2021, has been developed to help to ensure that hydropower projects across the world are recognised and certified for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. 

Developed by a coalition of industry, governments, multilateral and financial institutions and civil society organisations, the certification scheme aims to build trust and promote transparency in the hydropower sector.

“This new certification system is a game-changer for hydropower and is unmatched in the renewables sector,” commented Ashok Khosla, Chair of the Hydropower Sustainability Council which issued the new certification system.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard is launched following a public consultation by the Hydropower Sustainability Council, with the support of the International Hydropower Association (IHA). The Standard is cited in the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower, to be issued at the conclusion of the World Hydropower Congress, as the means to demonstrate a project’s sustainability.

Leading members of IHA have declared their support for the new certification scheme. Developers, operators and manufacturers – from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iceland, Sarawak (Malaysia), the United Kingdom and the United States – have either already confirmed they will put forward projects for certification or have urged their clients to comply with the new standard.

International organisations including the International Energy Agency (IEA), conservation groups, as well as former government heads have stated support for the new industry assurance system.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard will help demonstrate a project’s standard.

Earn the right to be labelled as certified sustainable

Hydropower projects will have to meet strict ESG performance criteria following an independent assessment to be awarded a new Certified Sustainable Hydropower label. Projects can be certified during planning, construction and operation, and the highest performers will be recognised with Silver and Gold certification status.

Dr Khosla said: “To meet the critical challenge of climate change, we urgently need greater investment in renewable energy such as hydropower. Due to the scale of investment required, the hydropower sector needs a credible, transparent certification scheme that will incentivise the best projects. This will give communities, governments and investors greater confidence about their net benefits and how impacts on the local environment are mitigated.”

“The Hydropower Sustainability Standard has not only gained the support of industry but also of governments, international organisations, finance institutions and NGOs. Projects that go through the independent assessment process and pass certification will earn the right to be labelled as ‘certified sustainable’ in line with internationally agreed performance criteria.”

Hydropower is at the heart of the energy transition

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) said it would expect its members to certify new projects under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, in line with the organisation’s updated membership charter. Achieving certification will help demonstrate alignment with the green bond requirements of the Climate Bonds Initiative and the EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Investment, as well as with World Bank and IFC performance standards.

IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich said: “Hydropower is at the heart of the energy transition alongside wind and solar. The Hydropower Sustainability Standard is a clear and simple system to certify and assure hydropower projects as meeting minimum environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance expectations. It will address any confusion about whether a new hydropower project is sustainable and will, crucially, help to unblock green investment and licensing decisions.”

At the opening plenary of the World Hydropower Congress, IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol backed the forthcoming Hydropower Sustainability Standard yesterday, saying: “We welcome the work done on [the] Hydropower Sustainability Standard by the Hydropower Sustainability Council and IHA in assembling a multi-stakeholder group and creating tools which set out best practices for the sector.”

“While there is a strong potential for hydropower projects to grow, and I hope it will grow, it is important that new hydropower projects are in line with sustainability standards and this is in my view critical for the next years to come,” Dr Birol added.

At the opening session, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Global Change, said: “The [Hydropower] Sustainability Standard will be a really important innovation and, most importantly, it will allow the international community to invest in hydro projects.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull added: “There will be no excuse for any hydropower developer to fall short of international good practice. If governments play their part and the private sector commits that no hydropower project goes ahead unless it meets this standard, then we can contemplate a fully green, clean, modern and affordable electricity supply by 2050.”

Hydropower projects will have to meet strict ESG performance criteria to be awarded a new Certified Sustainable Power label

Grant scheme for certification assessments

Hydropower developers and operators seeking certification under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard can access a grant to part sponsor the cost of an independent project assessment. Up to 1 million Swiss Francs (US$ 1.02m) is available for 40 or more projects over four years. The Hydropower Sustainability ESG Assessment Fund is managed by the International Hydropower Association (IHA)’s non-profit sustainability division and funded by the Swiss government’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Industry response

Operators and developers have responded to the certification:

Béatrice Buffon, Executive Vice-President of EDF:  “We actively support sustainable hydropower and we support IHA actions to accelerate its development in the world.”

Eduardo Sattamini, CEO of Engie-Brasil Energia, said: “As the largest private-sector power producer in Brazil, ENGIE is fully committed to keep deploying social and environmental best practices in its activities and is pleased to contribute to the elaboration of the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

Edson Silva, CEO of Jirau Hydropower Plant, part owned by ENGIE, added: “After assessing the Jirau Hydropower Plant in 2012 with the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol and publishing the results, it is a natural step for us to apply for sustainability certification, in order to confirm that we have implemented and manage a responsible project, complying with the best social, economic and environmental practices.”

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard is launched following a public consultation by the Hydropower Sustainability Council. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Wang Xiaojun, General Manager of Hubei Qingjiang said: “We support the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower and the Hydropower Sustainability Standard. They will play an important role in achieving global energy transition and net zero carbon targets.”

Sophie Brochu, President and CEO of Hydro-Québec, said: “We plan to use this new Hydropower Sustainability Standard to certify the Eastmain complex power plants in the James Bay region next year. We are proud to have played an active role in the development of the tool”.

David Murray, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Vice President–Generation, Health, Safety and Environment, Hydro-Québec, added: “We all recognise that climate change is real and that sustainable hydropower is part of the solution. Hydro-Québec is happy to contribute to developing and operating hydropower sustainably.”

Mark Wilson, CEO of Intelligent Land Investments (ILI) Group, said: “This new standard will be a world first in the renewables sector and will give decision makers and communities confidence that information on hydro projects can be relied upon. It will be the new gold standard for sustainable development ensuring environmental, social and governance (ESG) is put front and centre where it should be. ILI Group will be looking to have both our PSH projects, 450 MW ‘Red John’ at Loch Ness and our latest 600 MW ‘Corrievarkie’ at Loch Ericht, certified to the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

Hörður Arnarson, CEO of Landvirkjun said: “Landsvirkjun has been an active user of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol and is excited about taking the next step and applying the new Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

Sharbini Suhaili, CEO of Sarawak Energy said: “Sarawak Energy is Malaysia’s largest renewable energy developer and one of the early adopters of the guidelines in the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, ensuring our hydropower projects are developed and operated in line with international standards and best practices.

“Our 1,285 MW Baleh Hydropower Project, currently under construction, will be submitted for certification under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard to ensure it meets the strict criteria of HSAP and to reaffirm our commitment towards sustainable hydropower development.”

Adriana Waltrick, CEO of SPIC Brasil, said: “SPIC Brasil’s objectives are to develop and scale up innovative projects focused on sustainability and optimization of energy sources linked to Brazil’s social, economic and environmental objectives. In this direction, we are fully engaged with the certification, which is an effective tool to optimize our processes with joint focus on people, communities and the environment”.

Yalong Hydro Deputy General Manager, He Shengming, said: “We are in full support of the San José Declaration of Sustainable Hydropower and the sustainable hydropower Standard.

Wolfgang Semper, CEO of Andritz, said: “We proactively support measure sand initiatives that contribute towards improving the sustainability of hydropower projects such as the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

Dr Alberto M. Scuero, Managing Director of Carpi Tech, said: “Following the launch of the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, Carpi Tech will only support projects that we believe are aligned with good practice as defined by the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, and the best way for project owners to demonstrate this is through certification.”

Pascal Radue, President and CEO of GE Renewable Energy Hydro Solutions, commented: “Fighting climate change is the only way to preserve the planet we live on. This requires industry to take many, sometimes difficult, steps towards this goal. At GE Renewable Energy Hydro Solutions, I am pleased to announce that we will not participate in hydropower projects which do not fully comply with the requirements set forth in the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

Hari Poologasundram, CEO of SMEC, commented: “We are also committed to continuing to guide our clients to certify their projects under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard”.

Uwe Wehnhardt, President and CEO of Voith Hydro, said: “Voith shares the principle that going forward, the only acceptable hydropower is sustainable hydropower and encourages project owners to demonstrate this through certification against the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.”

This article first appeared in International Water Power magazine.