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Rainforest protection needed for hydropower production - study

Meeting Brazil’s energy demand doesn’t just require investments in energy projects – specifically in hydropower – but also efforts to conserve the Amazon’s forest cover.

Hydropower is currently considered the most reliable and feasible way to generate power for Brazil using non-coal resources. Over 45 new plants are planned in Brazil alone, with one project, the Belo Monte dam expected to supply 40 percent of Brazil’s growth in electricity production by 2019.

However, recent research has found that, the lost of regional rainforest cover could have a significant effect on hydropower energy production.

Specifically, if the deforestation in the Amazon Basin goes unchecked, the much anticipated power supply from the Belo Monte dam will fall 30 percent below current industry estimates. That amount of missing power would be enough to answer the energy needs of four million Brazilians.

“We are investing billions of dollars in hydropower plants around the world,” pointed out climatologist Marcos Costa, from the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil.

“The more rainforests left standing, the more water we’ll have in the rivers, and the more electricity we’ll be able to get from these projects,” he added.

Combining expertise in hydrology, ecology, land use science, climatology and economics, researchers modeled energy production under different levels of deforestation in the Amazon Basin. The scenarios with more forests also produced the most power.

With current deforestation levels in the region, rainfall was found to be 6 to 7 percent lower than it would be with full forest cover. A 40 percent loss in rainforest - as some predict could occur by 2050 - rainfall would be 11 to 15 percent lower, resulting in a 35 to 40 percent drop in power generation.

“Our study shows that the huge strides Brazil has made in slowing Amazon deforestation are actually helping secure the nation’s energy supply,” said Claudia Stickler, lead author and a scientist at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute International Program. “ But these efforts must continue hand-in-hand with conservation at the regional level.”

With energy generation playing an important part in the transformation of a developing nation into a developed nation, policymakers would do well to pay attention to the energy costs of deteriorating forests.

Policies that maximize conservation – such as limiting forest clearing and incentivizing forest protection – will also maximize power generation.

This is true for Brazil as well as other areas with hydropower potential such as Peru, Colombia, the Congo, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The World Bank estimates that untapped hydropower in this area is nearly four times that of installed capacity in Europe and North America. – EcoSeed Staff

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