Perspectives on water-based electricity. National potential for 2030 and 2050

Over the past few years a number of ideas have been developed for water-based power generation that can also help improve security of supply. Many of these technologies are innovative and have not yet been rolled out In the Netherlands on any major scale. In this study, commissioned by the Dutch Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA), the Directorate-General for Public Works & Water (Rijkswaterstaat) and the Dutch ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W), Witteveen+Bos and CE Delft review the potential contribution of water-based renewable electricity to the country’s future energy supply and the resultant impacts on water systems. It is concluded that over ten percent of national electricity demand could eventually be covered by such sources.

In the near term there are several technologies that could feed in to government objectives on sustainable power generation and storage: solar-PV on lakes, hydroelectric power at dams on major rivers and weirs on smaller streams, and flexibility via smart pumping regimes. In 2030 these technologies are projected to have a combined potential of about 2% of current national electricity demand.

Some of these technologies are potentially interesting  but will require further study and upscaling between now and 2030 to achieve further improvements in terms of technology and/or price. Together, though, these have a technical potential of around 9% of national electricity demand. The options in question are: energy from salt/freshwater differences, tidal energy (both barrage and stream), wave energy, offshore solar-PV and green hydrogen production.

The study, commissioned by Dutch water management agencies, also provides a robust point of departure for the route map ‘Electrical power from water’ announced by minister Wiebes in response to a parliamentary request. Water boards and Rijkswaterstaat can help drive development of this potential by facilitating pilots, pursuing joint ventures and reporting deliberations and dilemmas to the government. With due collaboration with the energy sector, water sector, knowledge institutes and industry, the route map should lead to an agenda for investment and innovation.

A revision of the report took place in 2021, the update can be found here and replaces the earlier version.



Emiel van Druten (Witteveen+Bos)