Challenge

The world faces a fundamental challenge: meet the growing global demand for affordable electricity to power economies and eradicate poverty, while drastically reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding the world’s rivers, wetlands and forests and the communities that depend on them. The reality of climate change demands the world to transition to a more sustainable energy future.

Hydropower is a key low-carbon option, but its use has often been linked to high social and environmental impacts —such as the displacement of communities and the loss of many of the world’s rivers and their diverse ecosystems and benefits. Hydropower development faces the challenge to propose credible alternatives to diminish the need for such high-impact dams.

A basin-level or system-scale approach to hydropower development is required to ensure sustainable results of hydropower projects across the world. Landscape planning approaches, integrating environmental demands and other uses and users, can sustain ecosystem services and offer the potential for broad economic benefits in addition to energy generation, such as water supply, flood-risk management, irrigation, and habitat for migratory fish and biodiversity. Additionally, it provides a platform to better engage projects with stakeholders, and other projects operating in the same basin. To support a system-scale approach, basin-level water resources assessments are needed, accounting for these possible benefits.

FutureWater approach

FutureWater applies a state-of-the-art toolset, including tools that are being developed in-house, to a wide range of sustainable hydropower projects. Depending on the context and issues of concern, a tool and data sources are selected, including remote sensing datasets on glacier extent for high mountain areas, reanalysis datasets for a consistent global climate data, and hydrological models.

For example, for small hydropower run-of-river projects in high mountain areas, typically the glacio-hydrological model SPHY is applied to assess flow duration curves and floods extremes. The same model, in combination with climate model ensemble outputs, can be used to assess climate risks, climate change impacts and to evaluate the scope for increasing climate resilience to hydropower assets.

For basin-level and landscape-planning approaches, FutureWater has extensive experience with assessing the potential for Sustainable Land Management activities in a catchment, its costs and benefits, its impact on hydropower generation and demands and supplies of other uses and users and environmental flows. To support the dialogue with stakeholders and provide quantitative evidence on possible business cases for revenue sharing schemes, return-on-investment analysis can be performed and presented in ways that are digestible for a wide public.

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