Written by 11:30 am Science & Technology Views: [tptn_views]

Hydro Dams Are Struggling to Handle the World’s Intensifying Weather

For BC Hydro, which serves 95 percent of British Columbia’s population, heat waves have proven a much bigger problem than drought. Rivers and rains remain strong, however the province’s historically mellow springs and summers have warmed up, prompting many individuals to change on air conditioners, which jacks up power demand. To keep the ACs humming, BC Hydro keeps a detailed eye on its fuel supply, that’s, its watershed. About 150 monitoring stations, equipped with snow, climate, and surface-water sensors, enable a near-real-time picture of water flows. This helps operators store up water for demand spikes in summer and winter alike.

Tajikistan, which gets fully 98 percent of its power from hydroelectricity, is adapting its fleet with a mixture of hard and soft measures. Renovations on the 126-megawatt Quairokkum power plant, in-built 1956, were screened against a spread of climate scenarios—similar to the diminution of its source glaciers. Just replacing its six Soviet-era turbines will hike output to 170 megawatts; the dam will even be reinforced for a ten,000-year flood whose intensity could exceed the previous design standard by anywhere from 15 to 70 percent. Meanwhile, investments by international funders in HydroMet, the country’s long-dysfunctional meteorology service, are paying off: The agency recently gave power generators early notice of a dry 12 months, enabling forward planning.

Recent trends have underlined the necessity for such changes. Earlier this 12 months, the International Energy Agency said today’s hydropower facilities are on average 2 percent less productive than dams were from 1990 to 2016. Droughts have weakened flows at many plants, the agency said, leaving fossil-based energy to fill a spot the dimensions of Spain’s annual power use. Other dams have been exposed to extreme events for which they weren’t strictly engineered, as in north India in 2021, when a crumbling glacier sent forth a wall of water that wrecked dams and towns downstream. Last month’s disaster in Libya, attributable to the failure of two flood-control dams hit by a supersized Mediterranean storm, further underlines the risks of maladapted facilities.

Even hydropower’s harshest critics take no issue with nip-and-tuck improvements at today’s dams. But amid a large expansion planned within the Global South, they warn against overconfidence that hydropower can adapt its way out of climate change. In July, an environmental group in Namibia urged the federal government to rethink a big dam proposed for the Kunene River, saying it’s liable to the identical climate extremes which have sapped the energy of Namibia’s other dams.

As climate disruption sets in, solar and wind can provide equivalent power with less risk, says Josh Klemm, co-executive director of International Rivers, a human rights organization focused on river communities. “We need to actually reexamine plans to develop latest hydropower,” he says. “We’re only going to deepen our reliance on a climate-vulnerable energy source.”

The Army Corps, meanwhile, is within the early stages of studying whether FIRO will be attempted at 419 other dams under its umbrella. Scaling up FIRO isn’t entirely straightforward; other parts of the US have different sorts of precipitation events than California does, and a few of these are currently so much harder to predict than atmospheric rivers. But Talbot is optimistic that the ever-improving forecast science can find efficiency gains there for the taking. “It’s making your existing infrastructure work harder for you,” he said. “In the face of climate change, this feels like an important method to position ourselves for buffering that.”

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