Thursday, March 17, 2016

The environmental impact of hydropower in the Amazon basin

Amazon basin certainly has plenty to offer in terms of hydropower capacity but at what costs? There are many large hydropower projects already in the place in this area such as Guri dam in Venezuela, which has a total output of 10,325 megawatts (MW).

Brazil is currently constructing even larger hydroelectric power plant, the Belo Monte dam, which once fully operation will have a total output of 11,233 MW. Power hungry countries are looking for renewable energy options to satisfy growing demand, and hydropower is often regarded as the best option for this area.

Energetically speaking perhaps, but environmentaly speaking no, at least this is what the scientists warn. Professor Carols Peres, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich warns that rapid hydropower expansion in Amazon basin "will result in huge changes to these Amazonian rivers by obstructing movement of aquatic fauna both upstream and downstream, by submerging rapids under huge lakes, by flooding adjacent forests and by creating forest islands that cannot sustain viable animal and plant populations and that these changes to the habitat will also be followed by indirect effects on the region's fauna and flora because the influx of people and money attracted by cheap hydropower are expected to result in higher deforestation rates in the areas affected by dams."

Many endemic species that are protected by law could experience decline in population, and we are talking here about hundreds of unique species.

Environmental and energy needs very rarely go hand in hand, and even "more renewable energy and less fossil fuels idea" doesn't do justice in all cases as renewable energy sources can also in some cases lead to major environmental damage.

Brazil, Venezuela and many other countries turn to large hydropower projects to satisfy ever-growing power demand. Brazil, for instance, has already laid plans to build 16 dams larger than 30 MW.

Some analysts would say that hydro remains Brazil's best energy option but Brazil should take into account the probable level of environmental damage caused by huge dams and perhaps turn its focus to other possible solutions such as improving energy efficiency of existing infrastructure as well as tapping other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.