First-generation technologies are widely used in locations with abundant resources. Their future use depends on the exploration of the remaining resource potential, particularly in developing countries, and on overcoming challenges related to the environment and social acceptance.


Biomass for heat and power is a fully mature technology which offers a ready disposal mechanism for municipal, agricultural, and industrial organic wastes. However, the industry has remained relatively stagnant over the decade to 2007, even though demand for biomass (mostly wood) continues to grow in many developing countries. One of the problems of biomass is that material directly combusted in cook stoves produces pollutants, leading to severe health and environmental consequences, although improved cook stove programmes are alleviating some of these effects. First-generation biomass technologies can be economically competitive, but may still require deployment support to overcome public acceptance and small-scale issues.


Hydroelectric power plants have the advantage of being long-lived and many existing plants have operated for more than 100 years. Hydropower is also an extremely flexible technology from the perspective of power grid operation. Large hydropower provides one of the lowest cost options in today’s energy market, even compared to fossil fuels and there are no harmful emissions associated with plant operation.

Hydroelectric power is currently the world’s largest installed renewable source of electricity, supplying about 17% of total electricity in 2005. China is the world's largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, followed by Canada.

However, there are several significant social and environmental disadvantages of large-scale hydroelectric power systems: dislocation of people living where the reservoirs are planned, release of significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane during construction and flooding of the reservoir, and disruption of aquatic ecosystems and birdlife. Hydroelectric power is now more difficult to site in developed nations because most major sites within these nations are either already being exploited or may be unavailable for these environmental reasons. The areas of greatest hydroelectric growth are the growing economies of Asia. India and China are the development leaders; however, other Asian nations are also expanding hydropower.

There is a strong consensus now that countries should adopt an integrated approach towards managing water resources, which would involve planning hydropower development in co-operation with other water-using sectors.

Geothermal power and heat

Geothermal power plants can operate 24 hours per day, providing baseload capacity. Estimates for the world potential capacity for geothermal power generation vary widely, ranging from 40 GW by 2020 to as much as 6,000 GW.

Geothermal power capacity grew from around 1 GW in 1975 to almost 10 GW in 2008. The United States is the world leader in terms of installed capacity, representing 3.1 GW. Other countries with significant installed capacity include the Philippines (1.9 GW), Indonesia (1.2 GW), Mexico (1.0 GW), Italy (0.8 GW), Iceland (0.6 GW), Japan (0.5 GW), and New Zealand (0.5 GW). In some countries, geothermal power accounts for a significant share of the total electricity supply, such as in the Philippines, where geothermal represented 17 percent of the total power mix at the end of 2008.

Geothermal (ground source) heat pumps represented an estimated 30 GWth of installed capacity at the end of 2008, with other direct uses of geothermal heat (i.e., for space heating, agricultural drying and other uses) reaching an estimated 15 GWth. As of 2008, at least 76 countries use direct geothermal energy in some form.