Experts predict that we will be 9 billion people sharing one planet by 2050. Where will we find enough energy to power our growing population?
Forward-thinking leaders looking for ways to balance economic growth and environmental protection are making major investments in low-carbon energy solutions like wind, solar and hydropower. Over the next 30 years, global hydropower capacity is predicted to double. This expansion of dams could impact more than 300,000 kilometers of rivers worldwide and many of the proposed dams overlap, almost perfectly, with some of the planet’s most naturally diverse places.
Ironically, our quest for clean energy represents one of the greatest threats to the rivers that feed our communities and support our economies.
At The Nature Conservancy, we believe we can find a balance between river conservation and energy production. We are sharing our science to influence how hydropower is developed in river basins all over the world. By working with decision-makers, such as hydropower companies and governments, we are demonstrating how shifts in policy and practice can allow us to meet our clean energy objectives and maintain healthy rivers.
In the Amazon, we have used scientific models to demonstrate how a range of different development scenarios could play out on the Tapajos River. We found several scenarios that could develop between 40-65% of the river’s total energy capacity for roughly similar costs. But the environmental impacts of those various scenarios vary widely: those that follow “Hydropower by Design”—our approach that considers the whole river basin when looking to reengineer old dams, remove or avoid others and better plan for those that will occur in the future—can maintain two to three thousand more kilometers of free-flowing river compared to business-as-usual approaches.
Finding balanced solutions in a world faced with tough choices is the crux of our global water strategy. Working in six important river basins slated for expanded hydropower development, we’re finding common ground and proving that industry, people and nature can benefit if we work together.
In places like Gabon’s Ogooué River, we’re working with the Gabonese government to develop a management plan that encompasses the entire river basin. By cataloguing, for the first time, the locations of the river’s important environmental resources in a national conservation atlas, we are charting a course for saving the Ogooué River’s unique ecosystems while harnessing enough of its power to fuel the country’s development.
Over the past several years, we have built a relationship with Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), a federal agency that is a leading planner and developer of electricity in Mexico. Together, we evaluated an initial set of 28 sites in the watershed where hydropower installations could potentially be developed. What we found is that there are scenarios where significant energy capacity development could be achieved while a good portion of river channels could remain connected and free-flowing.