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By Robert Rapier on Jul 19, 2013 with 9 responses

Hydropower and Geothermal Status Update 2013

This is the 2nd installment in a series that looks at the recently released 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The previous post – Renewable Energy Status Update 2013 – focused mainly on wind and solar power. This post delves into hydropower and geothermal power. Some of the BP data is supplemented by REN21′s recently-released 2013 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR). (Disclosure: I have been a reviewer for the GSR for the past three years).


Hydropower accounts for more electricity production than solar PV, wind, and geothermal combined. In 2012, hydropower accounted for 16% of the world’s electricity production. However, hydropower gets far less press because it is a mature technology with a much lower annual growth rate than most renewables. While solar PV increased capacity by an average of 60% per year over the past 5 years, new hydropower capacity increased at a much more modest annual rate of 3.3%.

Hydropower Graph for ETI

However, since 1). The installed base for hydropower is so high; and 2). The capacity factors for hydropower tend to be much higher than those for intermittent renewables — the amount of hydropower produced dwarfs that of the other renewable options. (The capacity factor is simply the amount of power produced divided by the power that would be produced if the power source was producing at full capacity at all times). Between 2002 and 2012, the amount of hydropower consumed globally increased by more than 1,000 terawatt hours (TWh). Over that same period of time, the amount of wind and solar power consumed increased by 560 TWh — albeit at a much higher annual rate of growth.

The capacity of hydropower plants also dwarfs that of other renewables such as wind and solar. In fact, the four largest power plants in the world are all hydropower plants. The only non-hydropower plant in the Top 5 is the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, which is the world’s 5th largest power plant.

Largest Power Plants

Despite hydropower’s current dominant position among renewables, growth in consumption of hydroelectricity will likely continue to be modest, because many of the best sites for hydroelectric dams have already been developed. The exception to this is in the Asia Pacific region, where hydroelectric consumption more than doubled over the past decade. The region currently accounts for 35% of global hydroelectric consumption, and that percentage is likely to increase as countries continue to develop hydroelectric power plants.


The BP Statistical Review lumps geothermal and biomass power together, presumably because they are both considered firm power options. (Firm power is simply power that is supposed to be available as needed, as opposed to intermittent power which may only be available when the sun shines or the wind blows). As a result, the BP data is supplemented with the REN21 report to isolate the geothermal contribution.

Geothermal energy is energy obtained from the earth’s internal heat. It is one of the most environmentally benign sources of energy, producing little to no emissions during normal operation. Like hydropower, geothermal electricity is a relatively mature renewable technology, which is reflected by its modest 4% annual growth rate over the past 5 years.

Geothermal electricity is produced when heat from within the earth is used to produce steam, which is then passed through a turbine. Electricity produced in this way generally requires fairly shallow geothermal reservoirs (less than 2 miles deep). Geothermal electricity has a high capacity factor, and the cost of generation is comparable to that of coal-fired generation.

Geothermal energy can be also be used for heating or cooling. Hot springs or water circulating in hot zones can be used to heat buildings. Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the earth’s temperature a few feet below the ground—consistently 50° to 60°F—to heat buildings in the winter and cool them in the summer.

In 2012, at least 78 countries used geothermal directly for energy. Over two-thirds of the geothermal energy for direct use was through geothermal heat pumps. 24 countries operated geothermal plants for electricity production. Total geothermal electricity capacity was 11.7 GW at the end of 2012. Capacity was led by the U.S. with 3.4 GW of capacity, followed by the Philippines at 1.9 GW, Indonesia at 1.3 GW, Mexico at 1.0 GW, and Italy at 0.9 GW. On a per capita basis, Iceland leads the world with 0.7 GW of capacity, which accounted for 30% of the country’s electricity in 2012.

The largest producer of geothermal power in North America is Calpine (NYSE: CPN), which operates 15 geothermal power plants at The Geysers region of Northern California. The 725 megawatts of geothermal power produced there represent about 40% of the North American total. The largest producer of geothermal power in the world, however, isn’t a company that many people might guess. It is Chevron (NYSE: CVX), which pioneered the development of The Geysers, and today operates geothermal plants in Indonesia and the Philippines.


Hydropower and geothermal power will continue to make important contributions to the world’s renewable energy portfolio, but they are unlikely to see the kinds of growth rates likely to be experienced by solar power over the next decade. Geothermal power still produces more electricity globally than solar PV, but was passed up by wind power in recent years. However, hydropower will likely continue its leading role as the world’s most important producer of renewable electricity until well into the next decade.

Link to Original Article: Hydropower and Geothermal Status Update 2013

By Robert Rapier. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

  1. By exdent11 on July 19, 2013 at 7:33 am

    How much more efficiency can be squeezed out of existing hydro by upgrading current generators , transformers ,etc?

    • By Joe Clarkson on July 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      Newer large facilities are already very efficient at higher load factors, typically around 90%. Older plants could squeeze a little more power out by installing newer equipment, but hydro turbines and generators have been a mature technology for so long that even older plants are very efficient.

      This report is a pretty good review of hydro world wide.

      • By Benjamin Cole on July 20, 2013 at 5:43 am

        Friendly reply to Joe:

        I am preparing for the future by doing nothing. The price signal will do things for me.

        My fear is not expensive power, or even expensive liquid fuels, it is that government and private greed will muff things up.

        The USA spends $1 trillion a year on Defense, VA and Homeland Security.

        For that money we could subsidize oil drilling and double production in 10 years. We may anyway. Or we could build any number of solar power plants, or mandate and subsidize Chevy Volt type vehicles. Solutions, on paper, are rather easy.

        I will concede that the US Congress and a ruling class will send the USA down the toilet if it suits them.

        One doomster i talked to said that at $150 a barrel US oil shale becomes economic, even the lesser plays. I suspect he was aiming high.

        Okay. $150 a barrel. That will not collapse our economy. We can survive and prosper.

        BTW I live now on farmland in Thailand. Maybe I can survive a global collapse. We have fish, chickens, eggs, vegetables, rice. But this ain’t the way to look at life. I might also need barbed wire fences and semi-automatics. It starts to get a bit kooky, no?

        • By Joe Clarkson on July 20, 2013 at 11:56 pm

          Aloha Benjamin,

          I think these comments are with the wrong post, but we can let others scratch their head…

          Glad to hear that you are living on a farm in Thailand. We are living on a farm in Hawaii. I think that both our families are better situated for hard times than the vast majority of folks in the developed world.

          I know that you are unconcerned about the economic ramifications of resource depletion, but I truly believe that even $150 a barrel oil will be a large shock to our global economy. If you have not read David Korowicz’s paper on the fragility of that economy I highly recommend it. You can find it here.

          • By Benjamin Cole on July 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

            Well, that is quite a tome, and I did try to read large parts of it. There is a tendency in developed nations to move towards higher levels of leverage, and I think that is worrisome. The connection to PO risks strikes me as a stretch.

            It may be that liquid fuels become more expensive in years ahead. Are we so ossified we cannot adapt?

            I think we adapt.

            BTW, Methanex, a large manufacturer of methanol, sells a gallon today for $1.60. That’s now. Not “if this works, and if we get that subsidy, and if all our studies are borne out in reality blah, blah.” $1.60. Now.

            Yes, methanol has less oomph than gasoline. But we have so much natural gas. The developed world has already hit Peak Demand.

            The risks to modern economies comes from central banks who are following tight money policies. We have seen this especially in japan, which has suffered from deflation since 1992. This period of monetary suffocation may come to an end soon.

            As long as man is allowed to innovate, we have little to fear from resource “shortages.” Crickey, we have corn enough to eat—and use most corn for ethanol (a bad idea).

            Oh, I have mostly fruit trees btw. The other stuff is done in between the trees. But I would prefer functioning societies.

            You know, I was an earnest college student in the 1970s, and we had “Limits to Growth.” I believed it. We were supposed to be out of oil 13 years ago. I was a bit of a screw-up anyway, but I also set aside many productive years of my life as I expected society to collapse, so what was the point of building anything up?

            Funny thing, the 1980s and 1990s were boom years. It took George Bush jr, to wreck that.

            I think we boom again.

  2. By Tom G. on July 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    There is of course a different side to hydropower we haven’t even begun to tap into yet. We could tap into hydrokinetic power and obtain thousands of MWh of power from some of our major rivers and ocean currents. No dams required.

    At the below link you will find a few pictures of some of the various experimental designs being considered.

    The more I review renewable energy systems the more I realize we really don’t have to be burning dirty fossil fuels to generate our electricity. Maybe it really is time for society to start thinking; “what can I do to promote clean air to breath and clean water to drink”. It might be much easier for society to understand than 400 ppm of CO2 on a mountaintop in Hawaii.

  3. By OD on July 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Off topic, but Robert I’ve been really impressed with your 2013 prediction for WTI/Brent spread. It’s proven 100% correct with 5 months left in the year to spare. Do you believe the spread will remain very small/nonexistent from here on out?

    • By Robert Rapier on July 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      I think the spread declined too quickly. It got ahead of itself. Clearly the spread was going to decrease because of all the pipeline capacity that will move oil out of Cushing, but that’s mostly going to happen later this year and early next year. I think traders are jumping the gun a bit, and I expect the spread to widen back out some, but it will be less than it was last year.

  4. By Others on July 21, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Thanks Mr RR. Seems Geothermal seems to be very efficient.

    Actually bp stats says that 1 ton of coal is only = 0.49 ton of Oil and that seems to be a very low figure. Many web pages say that Bituminous coal has 65% as much energy as in Oil. If they apply the right %age, Coal will be the #1 energy source.

    WTI has regained its deserved lead since its a higher quality benchmark. So the gas prices in USA will go up soon.

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