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Hydropower Generation Impacted

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Recent droughts in Colombia and Ecuador have severely hampered energy supplied by hydropower.

How viable is the low-carbon renewable in an increasingly hot and dry world?

Reliable, cheap and low carbon — since coming into use over a hundred years ago, hydropower has become a vital clean energy source, today providing more electricity than all other renewables combined.

But recent power shortages in Ecuador and Colombia have highlighted its vulnerability in the face of climate change.


A drought fueled by the El Nino weather phenomenon has reduced reservoir water levels in hydropower plants, which both countries rely on for most of their electricity.

This has led Ecuador to declare a state of emergency and institute power cuts. In neighboring Colombia, water has been rationed in the capital and the country has halted electricity exports to Ecuador.


Hydropower functions by harnessing the movement of water flowing through a turbine, which generates electricity as it spins.

“Hydropower is dependent on water so clearly if there is no water at all then hydropower cannot be used, disrupting energy production and stressing energy systems,”

Droughts — and sudden floods which can also damage dams — made more frequent and severe by climate change, are therefore an “increasing concern” for hydropower.


Countries with a high dependence on hydropower are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. In Africa, hydropower accounts for over 80% of electricity generation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia — many of which are also struggling with severe droughts.

“On top of that [high dependence], they have limited installed capacity for alternative power generation and limited transmission infrastructure to import power,”

The solution for these countries is to diversify their power sources by incorporating other renewable technologies — such as wind and solar — into their energy mix.


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