A global boom in hydropower dam construction


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.

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This research has been partially carried out within the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Program SMART (http://www.riverscience.eu) funded by the EACEA and the EU-funded project BioFresh (http://www.freshwaterbiodiversity.eu). Dr. Ulrich Schwarz provided data for the Balkan region. William Darwell, Mark O. Gessner, Christopher Kyba, Bernhard Lehner, LeRoy Poff and Emily S. Bernhardt provided helpful comments. Madeleine Ammar collected data on worldwide hydropower investments.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Correspondence to Christiane Zarfl.

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C. Zarfl and A.E. Lumsdon contributed equally to the preparation of the manuscript.

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Zarfl, C., Lumsdon, A.E., Berlekamp, J. et al. A global boom in hydropower dam construction. Aquat Sci 77, 161–170 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00027-014-0377-0

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  • Biodiversity
  • Energy
  • River management
  • Sustainability
  • Climate change