The history and impacts of hydropower



Water and power: Mega-dams, mega-damage?


‘Water grabbing’ refers to a situation in which public or private entities are able to take control of, or reallocate, precious water resources for profit or for power — and at the expense of local communities and the ecosystems on which their livelihoods are based.

The effects have been well-documented: examples include families driven away from their villages to make room for mega dams, privatization of water sources that fails to improve access for the public, and industrial activity that damages water quality.

This piece, taken from the atlas “Watergrabbing – a Story of Water”, part of a project funded by the European Journalism Centre, outlines the history and impacts of hydropower as well as planned mega dams in key locations across the globe.

Water for energy

The industries that drive the use of water in the energy sector are hydropower, electric energy production from fossil fuels, and nuclear power.

Water is being used by power plants indirectly, for cooling. An estimated 583 billion cubic meters of water is extracted for use in plants that produce energy from fossil fuel and natural gas — that’s 15 per cent of all water extracted. Some 66 billion cubic meters of this water does not return to the supply source. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2035 water extraction is projected to increase by 20 per cent and consumption (for energy) by 85 per cent, a trend driven by construction of new power plants that extract less water but consume more energy per unit of electricity produced.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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