Community-Owned Hydropower Projects

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Community-owned hydropower projects involve local communities owning and managing small-scale hydropower plants, typically with a capacity of less than 10 MW. This approach empowers communities to generate their own clean and renewable energy, promoting energy independence, economic development, and local decision-making.

Impact on climate action

Community-Owned Hydropower Projects within the Hydropower sector empower local communities to drive climate action. By promoting decentralized energy generation, fostering community engagement, and reinvesting profits locally, these projects reduce reliance on fossil fuels, mitigate carbon emissions, and accelerate the transition to sustainable, renewable energy sources.


  • Small-Scale Hydropower Technologies: These projects typically use run-of-the-river or micro-hydropower systems, which are well-suited for rural and remote areas with limited infrastructure.
  • Community Ownership and Management: The hydropower plant is owned and managed by the local community, either directly or through a cooperative or other community-based organization.
  • Participatory Decision-Making: Community members are involved in the planning, development, and operation of the hydropower project, ensuring that it meets the needs and priorities of the community.
  • Local Economic Development: Community-owned hydropower projects can generate revenue for the community, create local jobs, and support other economic development initiatives.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Community-owned projects often prioritize environmental sustainability, implementing measures to minimize impacts on aquatic ecosystems and protect biodiversity.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Modular and Prefabricated Hydropower Systems: Modular and prefabricated hydropower systems are making it easier and more affordable for communities to develop and install small-scale hydropower plants.
  • Low-Cost Turbine Designs: Innovations in turbine design are reducing the cost of small-scale hydropower turbines, making them more accessible for community-owned projects.
  • Community Financing Models: Innovative financing models, such as crowdfunding and community investment funds, are being developed to support community-owned hydropower projects.
  • Capacity Building and Training Programs: Programs are being implemented to provide communities with the knowledge and skills needed to develop, operate, and maintain hydropower plants.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Sustainable Rural Development
  • Modular Solutions for Accessibility
  • Financial Innovation for Community Projects
  • Participatory Planning for Impact
  • Local Capacity Building
  • Cultural Preservation
  • Resilience and Disaster Preparedness
  • Regulatory Frameworks for Community Ownership
  • Indigenous Rights and Recognition
  • Adaptive Management and Monitoring
  • Knowledge Exchange and Learning Networks

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Hydro Empowerment Network (HPNET):
    • Technology Enhancement: HPNET focuses on promoting community-based hydropower projects in regions where access to electricity is limited. They facilitate knowledge-sharing, capacity building, and networking among community groups, NGOs, and experts to empower local communities in developing and managing small-scale hydropower projects.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: HPNET stands out for its grassroots approach to hydropower development, emphasizing community participation, ownership, and sustainability. By empowering communities to harness their local hydropower resources, HPNET aims to improve energy access, livelihoods, and resilience in rural areas.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: HPNET serves rural communities, local NGOs, and development organizations involved in energy access and rural electrification initiatives. Their focus is on empowering marginalized communities to develop and benefit from community-owned hydropower projects, fostering economic development and social empowerment.
  2. International Rivers:
    • Technology Enhancement: International Rivers advocates for the rights of communities affected by large-scale hydropower projects and promotes sustainable alternatives, including community-owned hydropower initiatives. They work to raise awareness, mobilize support, and provide technical assistance to communities seeking to resist harmful dams and develop small-scale hydropower projects.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: International Rivers stands out for its global advocacy efforts to protect rivers and promote community-driven alternatives to large-scale hydropower development. They collaborate with local partners and grassroots organizations to support communities in asserting their rights and pursuing sustainable energy solutions.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: International Rivers serves communities impacted by large dams, local NGOs, environmental activists, and policymakers involved in water resource management and energy planning. Their focus is on promoting community ownership and control of hydropower projects, fostering social and environmental justice.
  3. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO):
    • Technology Enhancement: UNIDO supports community-owned hydropower projects as part of its efforts to promote sustainable industrial development and renewable energy access. They provide technical assistance, capacity building, and policy support to governments and communities seeking to develop small-scale hydropower initiatives.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: UNIDO stands out for its mandate to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development, including the promotion of community-owned renewable energy projects. Through its programs and initiatives, UNIDO aims to enhance energy access, foster economic growth, and promote environmental sustainability in developing countries.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: UNIDO serves governments, local communities, and development partners involved in energy access, rural electrification, and sustainable development initiatives. Their focus is on supporting community-driven approaches to hydropower development, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is a pioneer in research on Community-Owned Hydropower Projects, focusing on developing inclusive and participatory models for the development, management, and ownership of small-scale hydroelectric facilities by local communities.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves designing governance structures, legal frameworks, and financing mechanisms that enable community members to actively participate in decision-making, revenue sharing, and risk management associated with hydropower development. They also integrate social, environmental, and economic considerations into project planning and implementation to ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in rural electrification, sustainable development, and community resilience. By promoting community ownership of hydropower projects, MIT’s research empowers local stakeholders to harness renewable energy resources, create economic opportunities, and strengthen social cohesion in underserved areas.
  2. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley conducts innovative research on Community-Owned Hydropower Projects, leveraging its expertise in environmental policy, energy economics, and stakeholder engagement to develop frameworks for community-driven hydropower development and management.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses conducting case studies, field surveys, and participatory workshops to understand community preferences, values, and aspirations regarding hydropower projects. They also analyze regulatory barriers, market incentives, and institutional arrangements that facilitate or hinder community participation in the hydropower sector.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in river basin management, renewable energy policy, and sustainable livelihoods. By promoting community ownership and control of hydropower resources, UC Berkeley’s research contributes to building trust, fostering collaboration, and enhancing resilience in water-energy-food systems.
  3. Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is engaged in cutting-edge research on Community-Owned Hydropower Projects, leveraging its expertise in water resource management, rural development, and social innovation to advance community-based approaches to hydropower development.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves conducting participatory assessments, stakeholder consultations, and capacity-building activities to empower local communities to actively engage in hydropower planning, implementation, and governance processes. They also explore alternative ownership models, cooperative structures, and benefit-sharing mechanisms to promote community resilience and equity.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in sustainable energy transitions, climate adaptation, and poverty alleviation. By fostering community ownership and stewardship of hydropower assets, Wageningen’s research supports the transition to inclusive, people-centered energy systems that prioritize social justice, environmental sustainability, and community well-being.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Community-owned hydropower projects are being implemented in various regions around the world, particularly in developing countries with abundant hydropower resources and limited access to electricity. For example, Nepal has a long history of community-owned micro-hydropower projects that provide electricity to rural villages.