Hydropower
Is hydropower carbon free?

Is hydropower carbon free?

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Introduction

Hydropower is a renewable energy source that can be used to power homes, businesses and industries. It’s a popular form of energy because it’s reliable and doesn’t produce air pollution or greenhouse gases. But does hydropower also produce carbon emissions? The answer is yes: dams release methane when they decompose organic matter trapped in sediments on the river bed. And then there are additional emissions from the large amount of concrete required for construction! So while hydropower is technically carbon-free, it has a significant impact on GHG emissions during operation and decomposition (which can last up to 100 years). In this article we’ll discuss how this affects your carbon footprint as well as some strategies you can take at home to reduce GHG emissions while using hydropower.

Hydropower is a renewable energy

Hydropower is a renewable energy source, that’s true. However, it’s not carbon free or even low-carbon: the process of damming rivers and building reservoirs involves releasing thousands of tons of dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere due to anaerobic decomposition in the flooded areas.

A river dammed for power generation will release about 100 years worth of greenhouse gases from its reservoir over its lifetime; this is about 1/2 a percent of total global emissions per year.

Hydropower’s environmental impacts

  • Dams can negatively impact the environment

Dams have a number of environmental impacts. They can destroy habitats, displace people and cause water shortages and flooding. Dams also cause soil erosion and landslides as well as air pollution by releasing methane gas from decomposing vegetation in flooded areas.

The carbon footprint of Hydropower Dams

The majority of hydropower dams are built in tropical regions, where the water can be used to produce electricity year-round. This means that large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are stored as methane gas in the reservoirs. But how much CO2 does a hydropower dam release? And does it make sense for us to consider them carbon-free?

To answer these questions, we need to look at what happens when a river is dammed:

  • The reservoir covers the area upriver from the dam and floods some land that was previously dry. This displaces people who lived there—often Indigenous communities—and causes other environmental damage like soil erosion and reduced biodiversity. In some cases, people move their houses further upriver instead of relocating entirely; this happens with many hydroelectric projects in Brazil and Colombia today.* Creating reservoirs requires removing trees and vegetation from hillsides upstream so they don’t get washed into them.* Trees store CO2 during photosynthesis; removing them means fewer trees will be able to do this over time.* While forests often absorb more CO2 than they emit in any given year due to seasonal changes (e.g., increased photosynthesis during spring thaw), over long periods their net effect on our atmosphere tends towards releasing more CO2 than storing it.* By flooding land above reservoirs where forests once stood, dams create an opportunity for decomposing organic matter such as dead vegetation or animal corpses lying under water for years before being covered by sediment at lake bottoms.* This process emits CO2 into air until all gases have been released from decomposing biomass (or until oxygen levels fall too low).

How to reduce the carbon emissions from Hydropower Dams

  • Reduce the amount of water used

If your dam is built in a place where there are not many people, or if you are building a new dam, consider using less water. This may be difficult if you need to grow crops or use the river for drinking water. It also might not be possible if you live in a desert or other dry region; however, if your land is too wet already and won’t let precious crops grow without flooding their roots then it might be best to try something else anyway! A small reduction can go a long way toward reducing carbon emissions from this source—especially since the majority of dams worldwide do not have hydroelectric power attached to them at all (and therefore don’t contribute very much CO2).

  • Improve efficiency at existing dams

Hydropower can be carbon efficient but isn’t always so.

Hydropower has a reputation as a clean energy source. It’s true that dams don’t emit carbon emissions directly (as would coal or natural gas plants), but not all hydropower is created equal when it comes to its environmental impact.

Hydropower is by far the oldest form of renewable energy on Earth and relies on gravity to move water through turbines that generate electricity. The construction of large-scale dams can flood vast stretches of land and disrupt ecosystems, which often leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions: dams are responsible for 0.9 percent of global CO2 emissions annually, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Conclusion

Hydropower is an excellent source of clean energy. It’s not just carbon-free, it also provides electricity without releasing harmful emissions into the atmosphere. But as we’ve seen, there are some environmental impacts of dams that need to be considered before they can be considered carbon efficient.

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