How much does a hydropower system cost to build?

Blog post description.

4/6/20232 min read

brown mountain under white sky during daytime
brown mountain under white sky during daytime

It’s quite difficult to make generalisations about the cost to build hydro systems because of the different combinations of head (the change in water levels between the intake and discharge) and maximum flow rate, and how that affects the maximum power output and choice of turbine type.

Also the extent of any civil engineering works is very site dependent, with some new-build sites requiring everything to be built from scratch, while other retrofit projects can make use of and adapt the existing civil engineering structures.

Having said that, we’ll try to answer the question anyway to give you an idea of the ‘scale’ of costs involved. The table below is a rough ball-park estimate of typical project costs for systems requiring an ‘average’ amount of civil engineering works and grid connection upgrades and assuming access to the site was reasonable. In all cases it is assumed that good quality hardware is used throughout, which we would recommend anyway if you want a reliable hydro system in the long-term.

It is possible to install systems for a lower cost, particularly if the existing infrastructure at the site lends itself to easy adaption for a modern hydropower system so only modest or no civil engineering works would be needed. However even in the most favourable circumstances it is unlikely that the cost would reduce by more than 50% from that shown in the table.

The cost of building a hydropower system can vary depending on different factors such as the size of the project, the location, and the type of technology used. According to Statista, the average installation cost for hydropower has increased over the last decade, despite some oscillation, with hydroelectricity systems costing approximately $1,500 per kilowatt globally in 2021.[1] It is important to note that while the initial capital costs of hydropower systems can be high, they have relatively low maintenance, operation, and fuel costs when compared to other electricity sources across a full project lifetime, according to the National Hydropower Association.[2]