What Percent Of The World Is Powered By Hydropower?

What percent of the world is powered by hydropower?

Hydropower is a renewable form of energy that utilizes the natural energy of moving or falling water to generate electricity (https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/hydropower). It is considered a clean and sustainable energy source as it does not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases. Hydropower plays an important role in renewable energy as it accounts for over 70% of all renewable electricity production globally.

Most hydropower is generated using hydroelectric dams that capture the energy of river flows or waterfalls to turn turbines and generate electricity. Other forms of hydropower utilize tidal flows or waves. Overall, hydropower provides a stable, reliable, and affordable source of renewable energy in many parts of the world.

Global Hydropower Capacity

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), total installed hydropower capacity worldwide reached 1,334 gigawatts (GW) in 2021 1. This represents about one-sixth of total electricity generation capacity globally. The IEA forecasts that global hydropower capacity could reach 1,564 GW by 2030, an increase of around 17% from 2021 levels2. Much of the growth is expected to come from emerging economies, particularly in Asia.

Hydropower Capacity by Region

Global hydropower capacity is unevenly distributed across regions, with some areas harnessing far more than others. According to data from Global Energy Monitor, the top regions for installed hydropower capacity in 2022 were:

  • Asia – 1,064 GW
  • Europe – 217 GW
  • North America – 198 GW
  • South America – 179 GW
  • Africa – 35 GW

Asia dominates global hydropower with over half of total capacity. China alone accounted for over a third of worldwide capacity. Europe comes in second, followed by the North America and South America. Africa significantly lags other regions, reflecting large unmet potential.

The distribution demonstrates the importance of local geography, with mountainous areas and large river systems better able to support major dam and hydropower projects. It also reflects economic factors, as more developed regions have had greater resources to invest in hydropower development historically.

Hydropower Capacity by Country

The leading countries for hydropower capacity are China, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Russia, and India. Together, these six countries account for over half of the world’s installed hydropower capacity [1].

China has the highest hydropower capacity in the world at over 350 GW, representing about 30% of the global total. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China is the world’s largest hydropower project with a capacity of 22.5 GW [2].

Brazil comes in second with 109 GW of installed capacity from hydropower. Major projects like the Itaipu Dam provide the country with over 65% of its electricity from hydropower.

The United States has 102 GW of hydropower capacity mostly from large projects built in the 20th century. Canada follows closely with 81 GW of capacity and aims to expand its hydropower resources further.

Russia and India have 48 GW and 46 GW of installed hydropower capacity respectively. Both countries have potential for growth in the hydropower sector through new dam and pumped storage projects.

Hydropower Generation

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), total global electricity generation from hydropower was estimated to be 4,418 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2021, accounting for around 16% of total global electricity generation that year.1 The regions with the highest hydropower generation in 2022 were Asia with 2,620 TWh, Europe with 688 TWh, and North and Central America with 659 TWh.2 China was the top producing country, generating 1,260 TWh from hydropower in 2021.

Share of Renewables

Hydropower accounts for around 16% of the global total renewable electricity generation as of 2018, according to data from the International Hydropower Association (IHA) cited by Market Research. Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy electricity after wind and solar power. In 2018, hydropower produced around 4,200 TWh of electricity globally compared to around 5,500 TWh and 2,500 TWh for wind and solar respectively.

However, hydropower’s share of renewable energy has fallen about 9% over the past two decades as other renewable energy sources, particularly wind energy, have been developed more extensively, according to Market Research.

Share of Total Electricity

Globally, hydropower accounted for around 16% of total electricity generation in 2020 according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA) [1]. This makes hydropower the largest renewable source for electricity generation worldwide.

The share of hydropower in total global electricity generation has remained relatively stable over the past two decades. In 2000, hydropower accounted for around 19% of total global electricity. The share declined to 16% by 2020 as other renewables such as wind and solar have expanded more rapidly.

By region, hydropower accounts for the majority of electricity in some areas. For example, Latin America generates around 65% of its electricity from hydropower. In Europe, hydropower accounts for around 20% of total electricity. In North America, it accounts for around 7%.

Going forward, the IHA projects the share of hydropower in global electricity mix will decline slightly to around 15% by 2030 as other renewables continue to grow faster. However, in absolute terms installed hydropower capacity is still expected to increase in the coming years.

[1] https://www.hydropower.org/2021-hydropower-status-report

Growth Potential

According to the Vision report from the U.S. Department of Energy [1], there is significant potential to expand U.S. hydropower capacity in the future through upgrades and additions to existing facilities, as well as developing new low-impact facilities such as in-stream hydrokinetic technologies. The DOE report identified 65 GW of growth potential by 2050, representing a 50% increase from current capacity. The greatest opportunities for growth are at existing hydro facilities, where capacity could be increased through upgrades to turbines and other equipment. There is also potential to add new low-impact hydropower at existing dams and infrastructure that do not currently generate power. Beyond existing infrastructure, emerging technologies like in-stream hydrokinetic projects allow hydropower expansion into new areas with minimal environmental impact. Overall, the outlook for hydropower growth in the U.S. and globally is positive, with ample opportunity to expand capacity through low-impact and sustainable technologies while maintaining renewable baseload generation.


While hydropower offers many advantages as a renewable energy source, expanding its use faces some obstacles and concerns. One challenge is that the most favorable sites for hydropower dams have often already been developed, so remaining options may be less optimal or have greater environmental impacts. Building large dams and reservoirs can also displace communities and alter ecosystems. There are often disputes over transboundary rivers between nations sharing a water source.

Climate change presents challenges as well, as shifts in precipitation patterns may impact reservoir levels and electricity generation. Droughts can severely reduce hydropower output. Siltation can gradually reduce reservoir capacity over time. Operating dams to balance electricity production, flood control, water supply, and environmental needs introduces complex trade-offs. Upgrading existing infrastructure also requires major investments.

However, new approaches are emerging to reduce hydropower’s impacts, such as “run-of-river” projects with smaller reservoirs, adding generating capacity to existing dams, and installing new technologies like advanced turbines. With careful planning and management, hydropower’s challenges can be addressed to allow further sustainable growth.


Hydropower currently provides about 16% of the world’s total electricity supply. While the share of hydropower generation has declined slightly in recent decades, it still accounts for over 70% of renewable electricity generation globally. The top producing countries – China, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Russia – generate nearly half of the world’s hydropower. But there is still significant potential for growth in hydropower capacity, especially in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Global hydropower capacity could potentially double in the coming decades if new projects are developed sustainably. Overall, hydropower remains an important renewable energy source that provides clean, flexible electricity generation and supports energy access goals around the world.

The key facts show that hydropower makes a substantial contribution to renewable energy supply globally. With the right policies, financing, and environmental protections in place, hydropower can continue to provide clean, renewable electricity to meet rising energy demand for decades to come.

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