Research Article

Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 77, Issue 1, pp 161-170

First online:

A global boom in hydropower dam construction

  • Christiane ZarflAffiliated withLeibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland FisheriesCenter for Applied Geosciences, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen Email author 
  • , Alexander E. LumsdonAffiliated withLeibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland FisheriesDepartment of Biology, Chemistry and Pharmacy, Freie Universität Berlin
  • , Jürgen BerlekampAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück
  • , Laura TydecksAffiliated withLeibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
  • , Klement TocknerAffiliated withLeibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland FisheriesDepartment of Biology, Chemistry and Pharmacy, Freie Universität Berlin

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Abstract

Human population growth, economic development, climate change, and the need to close the electricity access gap have stimulated the search for new sources of renewable energy. In response to this need, major new initiatives in hydropower development are now under way. At least 3,700 major dams, each with a capacity of more than 1 MW, are either planned or under construction, primarily in countries with emerging economies. These dams are predicted to increase the present global hydroelectricity capacity by 73 % to about 1,700 GW. Even such a dramatic expansion in hydropower capacity will be insufficient to compensate for the increasing electricity demand. Furthermore, it will only partially close the electricity gap, may not substantially reduce greenhouse gas emission (carbon dioxide and methane), and may not erase interdependencies and social conflicts. At the same time, it is certain to reduce the number of our planet’s remaining free-flowing large rivers by about 21 %. Clearly, there is an urgent need to evaluate and to mitigate the social, economic, and ecological ramifications of the current boom in global dam construction.

Keywords

Biodiversity Energy River management Sustainability Climate change