Sunday, March 04, 2018

Hydropower Supply Dries Up with Climate Change

Water power is the largest renewable energy source in the world, but some plants are running out of water due to severe droughts.  Is climate change jeopardizing the future of hydropower plants?

Drought conditions in western India (Credit: Getty Images/AFP/S. Panthaky) Click to Enlarge.
Water powers around 70 percent of the world's renewable electricity, and more than 15 percent of the world's total power supply.  It's cheap, and unlike solar and wind, can produce electricity on demand.

But building hydroelectric dams also reshapes ecological systems, inundates landscapes, and has forced millions of people to abandon their homes.

And now, water power faces an added complication:  Climate change means some countries are experiencing severe droughts and reservoirs are drying up.

We cannot avoid the fact that climate change is having a remarkable impact on hydropower generation and it increases the challenge of managing hydro plants," Clemente Prieto of the Spanish Committee on Large Dams, told DW (Deutsche Welle).

Water power production falls
This is a serious concern for southern and eastern African countries.
Richer countries have been hit too.  Following four years of severe drought, a shortage of hydropower meant California had to use more gas to cover its electricity demand.  That cost more than $2 billion (€1.6 billion) and led to a 10 percent rise in CO2 emissions, according to the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security.

In other words, Californians had to pay more for dirtier power.

In Spain hydropower generation fell by half from 2016 to 2017, meaning more fossil fuels were burned and CO2 emissions shot up by 40 percent.  Latin American countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil have had similar experiences.

Yet despite uncertainty about our future climate, reservoirs are still being built around the world.

Does building new hydro plants make sense?
Brazil is planning to build several dams, including over 40 in the basin of the Tapajos River — one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.  The project has come under intense criticism for the impact it will have on local wildlife and indigenous human populations.

But Greenpeace says that with many countries seeing their hydropower production decline, the Tapajos project is even more questionable.  "Why would a country whose energy security is already compromised by overreliance on hydropower aim to increase that reliance still further?" a Greenpeace report reads.

Read more at Hydropower Supply Dries Up with Climate Change

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