Large hydropower projects are the bedrock of clean energy production, by virtue of their sheer size and reliance upon natural rainfall. However, new research recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that a necessary part of increasing the electricity produced by hydropower projects is conserving the local habitats.
The research specified that conserving rainforests in the Amazon River Basin will increase the amount of electricity produced by hydropower projects in the region, and is the first study of its kind to quantify the impact regional rainforest cover has on energy production.
According to the findings from the report, rainforests are more critical than previously understood in generating the rainfall that drives river flow, and subsequently power generation, in tropical areas. Conversely, if deforestation continues to increase in the Amazon Rainforest, energy projections for the Belo Monte dam in Brazil will decline by one third.
“Our study shows that the huge strides Brazil has made in slowing Amazon deforestation are actually helping secure the nation’s energy supply,” says Claudia Stickler, the study’s lead author and scientist at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute International Program (IPAM-IP) who provided their progress to Phys.org. “But these efforts must continue hand-in-hand with conservation at the regional level.”
Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported earlier this year that large hydro would be the largest form of clean energy production by 2030, so understanding how best to facilitate that production is a necessary next step.
The research showed that if Amazon Rainforest deforestation continues unchecked the energy output supplied by the Belo Monte Dam — which will be one of the world’s largest dams upon completion — would fall by approximately 30%, equivalent to introducing four million more Brazilians into the world.
“These results are extremely important for long-term energy planning,” explains climatologist Marcos Costa, one of the study’s authors from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil. “We are investing billions of dollars in hydropower plants around the world. The more rainforests left standing, the more water we’ll have in the rivers, and the more electricity we’ll be able to get from these projects.”
The research ran simulations working from various levels of rainforest deforestation and found that rainfall is currently 6-7% lower than it would be with full forest cover. If, by 2050 the estimates of 40% deforestation occur as some experts predict, then rainfall will be 11-15% lower which will result in 35-40% less power.
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