Reflections on the Pace of Change for Global Hydro

16 April 2012

LONDON - A great deal can change in 20 years, with companies, governments and even whole industries emerging or vanishing over that period. Take, for example, the internet. As ubiquitous as they seem in today's world, giant corporations such as Google and Facebook didn't exist two decades ago, nor even did e-mail in the way we understand and rely upon it in today's world. It's perhaps hard to imagine life without these technologies, so seamlessly are they integrated into our day-to-day existence and as dependent are we upon them in managing the hectic pace of modern life. But, stripped back to fundamentals, ultimately these wondrous technologies are simply ways to communicate ideas more effectively, a process that has been under development for many thousands of years.

In the same way, it is also perhaps hard to imagine a time when hydropower was not a major fixture in the global energy supply portfolio. To think back to a time before hydropower is to envisage a very different world indeed, a world beyond comprehension for most of the population — although, sadly, not all — when electricity was a new and rare commodity. Again, though, the process of harnessing the power of nature has been explored by humankind since our earliest origins; it is only the mechanisms that have changed and evolved over time.

Reflecting on this changing world, it is perhaps hard to believe that HRW — Hydro Review Worldwide  is now in its twentieth year of publication. Although today it too is mirrored with an on-line presence at, such an anniversary also presents an opportunity to consider what else has changed since that first edition of HRW was created. One of our features in that earliest incarnation explored a number of the opportunities that exist in the hydro world, such as new development, small hydro, and rehabilitation and privatization, as well as the challenges that needed to be overcome. Today, opportunities certainly still exist, in rehabilitation, emerging markets, pumped storage and balancing and in new technologies found in marine and tidal stream developments. We also still see challenges to their realization, for example, the explosive impacts as a means to address potential attacks on embankment dams, a tragic necessity in these troubled times.

The first edition also presented a feature on increasing the value of hydro through research and development. Today, we cover similar ground with methods to improve the control of Kaplan turbines, vital in maximizing their value. Perhaps most indicative of this changing world, the first ever Viewpoint, by then-publisher Leslie Eden, explored three fundamental qualities of hydropower: renewability, sustainability and a lack of carbon emissions. And, two decades on, these are the same fundamental qualities that continue to shine out to this day. Plus ça change.