Tag Archives: Hydropower

Salmon and hydropower can both thrive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists produce handbook that shows how better river management can mean more breeding success for migratory fish and more electricity from a vital source of renewable energy LONDON, 13 October – Hydropower can dramatically alter rivers and destroy the habitat of migratory species such as salmon, but now scientists have shown that it is perfectly possible for rivers to produce more fish and more electricity at the same time. After years of experience with hydro schemes in their own country, Norwegian scientists have produced a handbook to assist river engineers and to explain how to protect vulnerable species while exploiting rivers for renewable energy. The Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN) believes that by understanding the needs of migratory fish and controlling the flow of the river to accommodate their lifestyle, the breeding success can be improved. At the same time, by adapting and improving the turbine capacity and making it more flexible, more energy can be produced. While the handbook is based on experience in Norway, the same principles can be applied to many rivers in mountainous areas that have salmon or other migratory fish. Some of the ideas might also apply to fast-flowing rivers in places such as the Himalayas, the European Alps, the Rockies in North America, and the Andes in South America. There is resistance in many of these places to hydropower because it can cause drastic alteration to natural rivers and destroy their wildlife. As a result, there is still a large untapped potential for hydropower schemes in some regions.

Cheap and reliable

The handbook is intended as a blueprint to help engineers and environmentalists to work together to improve the habitat for wildlife, while extracting much-needed electricity from water power to help combat climate change. Hydropower is one of the cheapest and most reliable of renewables. As far as salmon rivers are concerned, the handbook says the first task is to identify current problems that limit salmon production in rivers. These include lack of spawning grounds or shelter, low water periods, or periods of disadvantageous water temperature. Looking at the existing or potential hydropower, engineers need to work out operating strategies for the power stations to avoid interfering with the salmon. These could include ideas such as transferring water from neighbouring rivers to improve flow at critical times, and increasing the capacity of turbines and waterways to make operation more flexible. How the available water in the river is used is critical. Water flow to ensure environmental quality and water releases at different times of the year need to be closely regulated. To achieve this, a flexible “water bank” will be required to ensure a good supply of water when needed. There also needs to be a smooth transition between high and low water flows, with some water being saved for critical periods. Physical measures in the river might be needed, such as creating favourable gravel for spawning, restoring rapids and pool sequences in the river, creating shelter in the river bed as hiding-places for fish, and removing fine sediment that inhibits spawning. Atle Harby, a senior research scientist, said that the new handbook – a world first of its type – can counter the current belief held by many that salmon inevitably suffer as a result of electric power generation in regulated rivers. Harby heads the CEDREN research centre – one of Norway’s “national teams” in environmentally-friendly energy, and which is manned by scientists from SINTEF Energy Research, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA).

No contradiction

He said: “Increased hydropower generation and larger salmon stocks are not necessarily a contradiction in terms. We can use new knowledge and new methods to increase salmon production without compromising power production in many of the regulated rivers. And this can be done using measures that don’t necessarily require major investments. “It won’t be possible everywhere, and in some rivers we have still to choose between salmon and power. But it is quite possible in many important salmon rivers to produce more salmon while maintaining existing power generation. We believe that our conclusions will be valid for a good number of important highly-regulated rivers. “We hope that the handbook will be used to identify what will be possible in each individual river.” Torbjørn Forseth, a senior scientist at NINA, said that salmon is an important indicator species in rivers. If salmon are doing well, and reproduce and thrive as they should, then other aspects of the river’s ecological system are also probably functioning well. Many of the handbook’s recommendations do not cost money. Much can be achieved by concentrating releases of water down the river during periods that are important for the salmon’s living conditions. Water temperature, riverbed structures and habitat conditions are important for the salmon and vary from year to year, but can be monitored and improved by river management. Forseth added that while transfer of water from neighbouring rivers can be costly, it is another possible option to ensure that hydropower companies and salmon have more water to share. – Climate News Network.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists produce handbook that shows how better river management can mean more breeding success for migratory fish and more electricity from a vital source of renewable energy LONDON, 13 October – Hydropower can dramatically alter rivers and destroy the habitat of migratory species such as salmon, but now scientists have shown that it is perfectly possible for rivers to produce more fish and more electricity at the same time. After years of experience with hydro schemes in their own country, Norwegian scientists have produced a handbook to assist river engineers and to explain how to protect vulnerable species while exploiting rivers for renewable energy. The Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN) believes that by understanding the needs of migratory fish and controlling the flow of the river to accommodate their lifestyle, the breeding success can be improved. At the same time, by adapting and improving the turbine capacity and making it more flexible, more energy can be produced. While the handbook is based on experience in Norway, the same principles can be applied to many rivers in mountainous areas that have salmon or other migratory fish. Some of the ideas might also apply to fast-flowing rivers in places such as the Himalayas, the European Alps, the Rockies in North America, and the Andes in South America. There is resistance in many of these places to hydropower because it can cause drastic alteration to natural rivers and destroy their wildlife. As a result, there is still a large untapped potential for hydropower schemes in some regions.

Cheap and reliable

The handbook is intended as a blueprint to help engineers and environmentalists to work together to improve the habitat for wildlife, while extracting much-needed electricity from water power to help combat climate change. Hydropower is one of the cheapest and most reliable of renewables. As far as salmon rivers are concerned, the handbook says the first task is to identify current problems that limit salmon production in rivers. These include lack of spawning grounds or shelter, low water periods, or periods of disadvantageous water temperature. Looking at the existing or potential hydropower, engineers need to work out operating strategies for the power stations to avoid interfering with the salmon. These could include ideas such as transferring water from neighbouring rivers to improve flow at critical times, and increasing the capacity of turbines and waterways to make operation more flexible. How the available water in the river is used is critical. Water flow to ensure environmental quality and water releases at different times of the year need to be closely regulated. To achieve this, a flexible “water bank” will be required to ensure a good supply of water when needed. There also needs to be a smooth transition between high and low water flows, with some water being saved for critical periods. Physical measures in the river might be needed, such as creating favourable gravel for spawning, restoring rapids and pool sequences in the river, creating shelter in the river bed as hiding-places for fish, and removing fine sediment that inhibits spawning. Atle Harby, a senior research scientist, said that the new handbook – a world first of its type – can counter the current belief held by many that salmon inevitably suffer as a result of electric power generation in regulated rivers. Harby heads the CEDREN research centre – one of Norway’s “national teams” in environmentally-friendly energy, and which is manned by scientists from SINTEF Energy Research, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA).

No contradiction

He said: “Increased hydropower generation and larger salmon stocks are not necessarily a contradiction in terms. We can use new knowledge and new methods to increase salmon production without compromising power production in many of the regulated rivers. And this can be done using measures that don’t necessarily require major investments. “It won’t be possible everywhere, and in some rivers we have still to choose between salmon and power. But it is quite possible in many important salmon rivers to produce more salmon while maintaining existing power generation. We believe that our conclusions will be valid for a good number of important highly-regulated rivers. “We hope that the handbook will be used to identify what will be possible in each individual river.” Torbjørn Forseth, a senior scientist at NINA, said that salmon is an important indicator species in rivers. If salmon are doing well, and reproduce and thrive as they should, then other aspects of the river’s ecological system are also probably functioning well. Many of the handbook’s recommendations do not cost money. Much can be achieved by concentrating releases of water down the river during periods that are important for the salmon’s living conditions. Water temperature, riverbed structures and habitat conditions are important for the salmon and vary from year to year, but can be monitored and improved by river management. Forseth added that while transfer of water from neighbouring rivers can be costly, it is another possible option to ensure that hydropower companies and salmon have more water to share. – Climate News Network.

Brazil's paradoxical energy policy

Insisting that its policy of generating electricity from hydropower is emissions-free, Brazil is facing opposition from river communities threatened by its expansion. But is it a green option anyway, asks Climate News Network’s Brazil correspondent.

São Paulo, 22 January – Jerky mobile phone footage shows men carrying the inert body of a young man, surrounded by distraught, weeping women. Their wailing is clearly audible, as are the shrieks of a pet monkey which scurries in and out of the crowd.

The body is finally laid at the feet of the young man`s mother. She strokes away the hair over a bullet wound in his forehead, while others point to bullet holes in his legs.

Adenilson Kirixi Munduruku was shot during a federal police operation, purportedly to clear illegal goldminers from the Teles Pires river in the Brazilian Amazon.  Dressed for jungle warfare, the police threw teargas and fired rifles while a police helicopter flew low over the crowd.

But the Munduruku Indians believe the real aim of the operation last November was to intimidate the villagers who have been protesting against a dam being built on the river, which will flood their sacred places.

The Teles Pires dam is one of five planned for the Tapajos river system, a major tributary of the Amazon and the last undammed river running from Brazil’s central plateau to the Amazon basin.

Water levels drop

At least 30 large dams are planned for the Amazon region. If they all go ahead, every one of the major rivers which feed into the mighty Amazon will be dammed. The Brazilian government claims to have one of the cleanest energy systems in the world, with over 70% of  the country`s energy provided by hydroelectric power.

That claim is now being challenged as changes to Brazil’s weather pattern produce lower rainfall and more frequent  droughts, causing the levels of reservoirs and rivers to fall.

Earlier dams like Tucurui on the Tocantins river inundated vast areas of forest to form giant lakes, but the newer generation of dams like Belo Monte on the Xingu, and Jirau and Santo Antonio on the Madeira, use the “run-of-the river” (fio d`agua)  system, with much smaller reservoirs dependent on abundant rains.

The Brazilian press is now full of alarmist stories about the possibility of electricity rationing, because of the fall in the level of the reservoirs.  The government firmly denies this will happen.

But while environmentalists see this as an opportunity to invest more in other renewables, like wind and solar power, the government has preferred to fall back on the increasing use of coal, diesel or gas-fired  plants to make up the shortfall.

Between October and December 2012 these plants produced 15.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to a study by WayCarbon, an environmental consultancy company, published in O Globo newspaper on 12 January.

This position has drawn criticism from within the government itself. Tasso Azevedo, a Ministry of the Environment adviser, said that last year the annual total for emissions from these plants was higher than those caused by deforestation.

He said that it made no sense to dirty Brazil`s energy mix with the use of thermal power, “when the country has the greatest potential for wind, solar, hydro and biomass power in the world”.

Yet instead of investing in wind or solar power, the government has doubled the number of thermal plants in the last 10 years, to over 1,100.

Shrinking parks

The idea that hydroelectric dams are emission-free is also being challenged. After reviewing a number of studies Philip Fearnside, professor of ecology at INPA, the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, found that “in all of these studies, their overall conclusion that tropical dams emit substantial amounts of greenhouse gases in their first 10 years is clear and robust”.

Fearnside, an American who has lived in Brazil for 30 years, is a widely cited global warming scientist. Referring to the Teles Pires dam which the Munduruku Indians are fighting, he said the government’s claim that it will “generate greenhouse gas emission-free electricity cannot be substantiated”.

To build the five dams on the Tapajos, which will together inundate an area of almost 2,000 sq kms, the government has reduced the size of several national parks and conservation areas around the river.

Many riverine communities, not the Munduruku alone, will be dislodged from what till now has been a relatively unspoilt area of biodiversity.

Edison Lobão, the energy minister, is unapologetic: “Over the next ten years we have to meet the challenge of doubling our installed electrical energy capacity of 121,000 MW”. – Climate News Network

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist living in Brazil and a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.

Insisting that its policy of generating electricity from hydropower is emissions-free, Brazil is facing opposition from river communities threatened by its expansion. But is it a green option anyway, asks Climate News Network’s Brazil correspondent.

São Paulo, 22 January – Jerky mobile phone footage shows men carrying the inert body of a young man, surrounded by distraught, weeping women. Their wailing is clearly audible, as are the shrieks of a pet monkey which scurries in and out of the crowd.

The body is finally laid at the feet of the young man`s mother. She strokes away the hair over a bullet wound in his forehead, while others point to bullet holes in his legs.

Adenilson Kirixi Munduruku was shot during a federal police operation, purportedly to clear illegal goldminers from the Teles Pires river in the Brazilian Amazon.  Dressed for jungle warfare, the police threw teargas and fired rifles while a police helicopter flew low over the crowd.

But the Munduruku Indians believe the real aim of the operation last November was to intimidate the villagers who have been protesting against a dam being built on the river, which will flood their sacred places.

The Teles Pires dam is one of five planned for the Tapajos river system, a major tributary of the Amazon and the last undammed river running from Brazil’s central plateau to the Amazon basin.

Water levels drop

At least 30 large dams are planned for the Amazon region. If they all go ahead, every one of the major rivers which feed into the mighty Amazon will be dammed. The Brazilian government claims to have one of the cleanest energy systems in the world, with over 70% of  the country`s energy provided by hydroelectric power.

That claim is now being challenged as changes to Brazil’s weather pattern produce lower rainfall and more frequent  droughts, causing the levels of reservoirs and rivers to fall.

Earlier dams like Tucurui on the Tocantins river inundated vast areas of forest to form giant lakes, but the newer generation of dams like Belo Monte on the Xingu, and Jirau and Santo Antonio on the Madeira, use the “run-of-the river” (fio d`agua)  system, with much smaller reservoirs dependent on abundant rains.

The Brazilian press is now full of alarmist stories about the possibility of electricity rationing, because of the fall in the level of the reservoirs.  The government firmly denies this will happen.

But while environmentalists see this as an opportunity to invest more in other renewables, like wind and solar power, the government has preferred to fall back on the increasing use of coal, diesel or gas-fired  plants to make up the shortfall.

Between October and December 2012 these plants produced 15.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to a study by WayCarbon, an environmental consultancy company, published in O Globo newspaper on 12 January.

This position has drawn criticism from within the government itself. Tasso Azevedo, a Ministry of the Environment adviser, said that last year the annual total for emissions from these plants was higher than those caused by deforestation.

He said that it made no sense to dirty Brazil`s energy mix with the use of thermal power, “when the country has the greatest potential for wind, solar, hydro and biomass power in the world”.

Yet instead of investing in wind or solar power, the government has doubled the number of thermal plants in the last 10 years, to over 1,100.

Shrinking parks

The idea that hydroelectric dams are emission-free is also being challenged. After reviewing a number of studies Philip Fearnside, professor of ecology at INPA, the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, found that “in all of these studies, their overall conclusion that tropical dams emit substantial amounts of greenhouse gases in their first 10 years is clear and robust”.

Fearnside, an American who has lived in Brazil for 30 years, is a widely cited global warming scientist. Referring to the Teles Pires dam which the Munduruku Indians are fighting, he said the government’s claim that it will “generate greenhouse gas emission-free electricity cannot be substantiated”.

To build the five dams on the Tapajos, which will together inundate an area of almost 2,000 sq kms, the government has reduced the size of several national parks and conservation areas around the river.

Many riverine communities, not the Munduruku alone, will be dislodged from what till now has been a relatively unspoilt area of biodiversity.

Edison Lobão, the energy minister, is unapologetic: “Over the next ten years we have to meet the challenge of doubling our installed electrical energy capacity of 121,000 MW”. – Climate News Network

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist living in Brazil and a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.