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Hydropower Shortfall Leads to Record Global Emissions in 2023


In 2023, global emissions hit a record high, with a significant portion of the blame falling on hydropower. Droughts around the world led to a drop in generation from hydroelectric plants, forcing a reliance on fossil fuels to fill the gap.

Hydropower, a key source of renewable electricity, faced unprecedented challenges due to weather conditions last year. The decrease in hydropower generation contributed to a 1.1% rise in total energy-related emissions in 2023, with hydropower accounting for 40% of that increase, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.

Hydroelectric power plants use dams to create reservoirs, allowing water to flow through the power plant as needed to generate electricity. This flexibility is valuable for the grid, especially compared to less controllable renewables like wind and solar. However, hydropower is still dependent on weather patterns for reservoir filling, making it vulnerable to droughts.

The world added approximately 20 gigawatts of hydropower capacity in 2023. However, weather conditions caused a decrease in the overall electricity generated from hydropower. China and North America were particularly affected by droughts, leading to increased reliance on fossil fuels to meet energy demands.

Climate change is expected to further impact hydropower generation. Rising temperatures will lead to more frequent and severe droughts, while warmer winters will reduce snowpack and ice that fill reservoirs. More variability in precipitation patterns will also affect hydropower generation, with extreme rainfall events causing flooding instead of storing water for later use.

While hydropower is not expected to disappear, the future grid will need to be resilient to weather variations. A diverse range of electricity sources, combined with robust transmission infrastructure, will help mitigate the impacts of climate change on energy generation.

In conclusion, the challenges faced by hydropower in 2023 highlight the need for a flexible and diverse energy mix to meet climate goals in the face of a changing climate.

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