Posts Tagged "hydropower"

Climate Change Brings Global Energy Concerns

Posted by on Feb 18, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Climate Change Brings Global Energy Concerns

Spread the News:ShareGlobal reliance on hydroelectric energy production has only increased in the 21st century, even as our supply of hydropower has become increasingly uncertain due to climate change impacts, including glacial retreat. South Asia is a clear example: due to the high cost and political risks of importing fuels like oil or coal, countries in this region have increasingly turned to hydroelectric power for domestic energy production. But changes to the Himalayan hydro-ecosystem could severely disrupt future hydroelectric development in South Asia. Today, large regional electrical grids feed most global energy demand. To maintain constant supply and meet demand as efficiently as possible, different “tiers” of power plants tend to work together. “Base load” power plants, such as nuclear and coal generators, are most efficient when providing a constant supply of energy around the clock, as opposed to in short bursts to meet peak demand, and so form the backbone of most electric grids. “Load following” power plants are used to adapt to short-term changes in demand, typically shutting down at night or early morning. Examples include natural gas or diesel and renewable power plants. “Peaking power” plants can start and stop very quickly but are far less efficient than base load plants at longer timescales and are more expensive to run than load following plants. They typically come online for only a few hours a day to meet peaks in energy demand. Diesel and gasoline internal combustion engines are examples. Hydroelectric generators can theoretically be used to fill any of these roles, depending upon the availability of water, the size of the reservoir, and the installed capacity. For this reason variations in hydro-ecosystems have a large impact on the energy potential available to such generators. If a hydroelectric plant is supplying base load energy, low stream flow can lead to power outages. If such a plant is used to supply peak needs, declines in water supplies at the wrong times can cause voltage drops or brownouts. Conversely, if the reservoir is too full due to heavy rain or snowmelt, spillways have to be opened and the energy often cannot be used at all. For these reasons hydroelectric plants are most commonly used as load following plants. Some even pump water back up river into reservoirs as a form of energy storage if production is high when demand is low. In the Himalayas, hydropower is at grave risk, and yet there is virtually no supplementary base load power available, and little ability to purchase energy from other sources. As Himalayan glaciers melt at unprecedented rates, springtime stream flows have become more intense and unpredictable, while the risks of glacial lake outburst floods and landslides are growing. The severe inconsistency of the water supply could even cause hydroelectric projects to fail, flooding downstream communities. Ultimately, investments in hydroelectric power in the region may be disproportionate to the amount of energy that these plants will realistically be able to produce, given the ecosystem risks. Although South Asia is in a notably precarious position, such concerns are not uniquely Himalayan.  In fact, according to a study by Schaefli et al., the net effect of global warming in Switzerland will be to noticeably reduce hydroelectric production, which is a serious problem for a country where 75% of electricity comes from hydroelectric power. Another 2014 study on Swiss hydropower by Ludovic Gaudard et al. has warned that increased water scarcity may lead to competition for water uses, further limiting water available for energy production. As such, the country has been taking measures to insure energy resilience, managing its hydro projects more closely and investing in other forms of renewable energy. According to the results of a project by the Swiss Sustainable Water Management National Research Programme, more careful water management practices could make up for increasing stream flow uncertainty. In the US Pacific Northwest, scientists are advocating...

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A conference expands the debate over hydropower in Bhutan

Posted by on Dec 3, 2014 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

A conference expands the debate over hydropower in Bhutan

Spread the News:ShareHydropower is the mainstay of the Bhutanese economy, but how is the country moving ahead in its development? Is the present method of constructing hydropower projects conducive to economic development? Does it make sense for Bhutan to build 10,000 megawatts of hydropower by 2020, as some have suggested? These were some of the questions that came up during the three-day conference on Energy, economy and environment which was held in the capital city of Thimphu on 29 to 31 October. More fundamental issues were raised as well: Can Bhutan become a leader in hydropower development in south Asia? Is hydropower in Bhutan sustainable, granted given the pressing concerns about climate change and glacial retreat? The conference was organized by QED, a private research and consultancy firm, and sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, a German based NGO, along with the Bhutan Ecological Society and Bhutan Foundation. The World Bank, the World Wildlife Fund, and other international and national organizations provided support. The goal of the conference was to correct the perception that Bhutan has passively stood by, observing changes while other countries develop hydropower projects within its territory. And indeed the three days of the conference were marked by lively debate and open discussion, and a reconsideration of Bhutan’s passivity. The importance of hydropower was universally acknowledged. The sector earns about US$160M annually through sale of electricity to India, a country that chronically faces acute shortages of power. This amount constitutes about 27 percent of GDP, and is the key contributor of foreign currency. No other economic activity offers the possibility of reaching this scale. The market for hydropower may grow further. Speakers at the conference raised the issue of trading energy in the entire south Asian region and the need for a regional energy grid. Dasho Chhewang Rinzin #DGPC asserts “#Hydropower project contributes 27% of annual govt. #revenue” #futureofenergy pic.twitter.com/vlwCurPlHB — QED Group (@QEDBhutan) October 30, 2014 Moreover, hydropower is by far the least expensive source of renewable energy; this concern is important, because Bhutan has set carbon neutrality as a goal. . A kilowatt-hour of wind power costs about 10 times as much to produce as hydropower, and solar power averages about 15 times as much. Although hydropower takes up a major share of the Bhutanese economy, there is today no private sector participation in it. Though some participants at the conference pressed for private sector participation in the hydropower sector, many claimed that it did not economically make sense for a private individual or firm to develop hydropower projects, because of the high initial costs of projects Instead, the state sector will continue to lead. Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, the managing director of Druk Green Power Corporation, Bhutan’s electricity generation company, said that the country is soon poised to take the task of building hydropower projects upon itself, with limited assistance from outside. However, concerns were also raised about the “Dutch disease”—the shrinkage of other economic sectors in a country which centers its economy on one natural resource. A number of participants expressed their worries for Bhutan if it places all its economic eggs in the hydropower basket, weakening other sectors that could contribute to development as well. In addition, some participants saw challenges to the hydropower sector in the form of glacier retreat and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Gordon Johnson, Regional Practice Leader for Environment and Energy in Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Development Programme raised the issue that the volume of water that has its source from the Himalayan range would become lesser with climate change, thus affecting the hydropower sector. However,...

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City Lights Are Bright in Bhutan, but for How Long?

Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

City Lights Are Bright in Bhutan, but for How Long?

Spread the News:ShareMy colleagues Ed Cook, Paul Krusic and I have come to Bhutan with plans to get off the grid. We are eager to set off on a trek through old-growth forests and remote villages, both for the sake of research and to disconnect. Ed and Paul plan to collect samples from ancient groves, and use tree ring patterns to establish the region’s climate history. Through an interpreter, I will talk to local farmers to learn more about their livelihoods and their views of environmental and social change. Ed and Paul are tree-ring scientists, Ed at Columbia University and Paul at Stockholm University; I am an anthropologist who co-directs the Climate and Society program at Columbia. We will be accompanied by Paul’s twelve-year-old son Jonas, who was last here when he was four. We look forward to traversing forested mountain slopes, with quiet trails and starry night skies. We might be happy to get away, but the people here in Thimphu, the capital city, are glad to be connected to the grid. They welcome electricity as part of their lives and view it as a sign of their country’s progress. Committed to meeting basic human needs and to reducing poverty, Bhutan has extended social services, particularly education and health, throughout the country; the schools and clinics need electricity, and children cannot do homework without good lighting. The country’s strong environmental programs also depend on electricity, since they require computers and the internet. Ed, Paul and I spent an afternoon at the Watershed Management Division of the Department of Forests and Parks, where researchers use databases to select regions where they support communities to restore damaged forests and soils. The four of us were invited out to dinner by a Bhutanese couple — a senior government official and his wife, a teacher — whom Ed and Paul have known since they began their research on climate history here over a decade ago. I spent most of the meal conversing with their daughter Selden and their niece Karma, both in their mid-twenties. They have studied in Bhutan and in India, and hope for professional careers, Selden as a physician and Karma in finance. For them, Thimphu is the best part of Bhutan, the only city in the country where they would consider living, because it is so developed. I asked them whether there is a word in Dzongkha, the national language, for “development.” Without hesitating, they told me that it was yargey. I asked them to tell me the key components of yargey. “Infrastructure. Communication. Electricity,” Karma said. She and Selden talked about their childhoods, when few people had landlines, and there was only one television channel. Now everyone has cell phones, and cable television brings many channels. When I returned to my hotel after dinner, I turned on the television in my room for the first time. I found Bhutan Broadcast Service, a channel with transmissions in Dzongkha. Before cable television, Bhutan relied on programming in English or in the languages of India, particularly Hindi. On Saturday, Ed, Paul, Jonas and I visited a local market, planning out the food purchases for our trip. I was struck by the number of people using cell phones, not just young educated people like Sonam and Karma. We strolled through the city. Thimphu’s population has grown in recent years, with an influx of villagers who are attracted by the city’s bright lights and by its concentration of yargey. The tall streetlights that illuminate these roads caught my eye. They reminded me of a detail that Ed had mentioned to me of his early days in Bhutan. When...

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Dariali gorge may be in danger from new hydroelectric plant

Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Dariali gorge may be in danger from new hydroelectric plant

Spread the News:ShareAlong Georgia’s border with Russia, about two hours north of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the Tergi River flows on an almost 400 mile journey down from the Devdorak Glacier atop Mount Kazbek to the Caspian Sea. The river has been a valued source of water for the communities along its banks for thousands of years, and the gorge which it cuts through the Caucasus has been a key trade route as well. It has recently become the site of a controversial hydroelectric project. After not one, but two major landslides, the Dariali Hydropower Plant, located on the river, has become a topic of recent debate. The May 2014 landslide left three power plant workers dead and five others missing, it also completely impeded the Dariali Gorge, cutting of the region’s arterial roadway between Georgia and Russia, in addition to severing an essential natural gas pipeline providing Armenia with natural gas from Russia. The August landslide, reportedly larger than the one a few months before, resulted in the death of two more hydroelectric plant workers and necessitated a visit to the area by the Georgian president. These events are not new for the region, which has been blighted by landslides for as long as local history remembers. This history makes local residents concerned. Other hydroelectric projects have succumbed to such hazards. For this reason and others ,the Dariali project, which would provide an estimated 108 Megawatts of electricity to the region, has already run into political controversy. The public does not fully accept the project, Eighty to 90 percent of the Tergi River would have to be diverted, leaving almost five miles of the riverbed completely dry, and threatening the local trout population. The project necessitated the rezoning of the area, removing its status as a national park under legal protection. Local people were concerned that construction began before a permit was issued, or before even mandatory public hearings were held. Another issue is contribution of global warming to the latest two landslides. Devdorak Glacier, like other glaciers in the Caucasus, has been retreating in recent years. The meltwater could lead to increased water flow and thus contribute to natural erosion, increasing the risk of floods and landslides. Such dangers are well-established in the valley, as demonstrated by accounts as far back as 1869. Douglas W. Freshfield gives this account in his “Travels in the Central Caucasus and Bashan“: “M.E. Favre, of Geneva, a well-known geologist who visited the Devdorak Glacier a few weeks after ourselves, came to the following conclusion as to the nature of the catastrophe. No avalanche, he says, could without the aid of water traverse the space between the end of the glacier and the Terek (Tergi river), and he accounts for the disasters which have taken place in the following way. He believes the Devdorak Glacier, to which he finds a parallel in the Vernagtferner Glacier in the Ötzthal Alps, to be subject to periods of sudden advance. During these the ice finds no sufficient space to spread itself out in the narrow gorge into which it is driven, and is consequently forced by the pressure from behind into so compact a mass that the ordinary water-channels are stopped, and the whole drainage of the glacier is pent-up beneath its surface. Sooner or later the accumulated waters burst open their prison, carrying away with them the lower portion of the glacier. A mingled flood of snow and ice, increased by earth and rocks torn from the hillsides in its passage, sweeps down the glen of Devdorak. Issuing into the main valley it...

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