If measures are not taken, climate change could hamper hydropower production

Electricity: Parts of Southeast Asia, including Bhutan, could experience fall in electricity production because of decline in mean annual stream-flow if green house gas emissions continues to rise.

Scientists have examined the linkages between climate change, water resources, and electricity production on a global scale.

The results of the Power-generation System Vulnerability and Adaptation to Changes in Climate and Water Resources do not bode well for Bhutan.

The report estimates decrease in usable capacity or power production capacity of 61-74 percent of hydropower plants worldwide by 2050. The study predicts average annual reductions in power production of 1-4 percent.

“Hydropower and thermoelectric power plants rely on freshwater from rivers and streams,” said Michelle Van Vliet, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

According to the research that covered 25,515 hydropower systems the highest monthly reductions in power producing capacity could reach more than 30 percent.

Model projections show that climate change will impact water resources.

The research emphasises the argument that Bhutan needs to be cautious in putting all its eggs in the hydropower basket.

Critics, including the former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, said that Bhutan needs to pay attention to the impact of climate change on its hydropower projects.

Bhutan has hydropower potential of about 30,000MW, 24,000MW of which is technically feasible. Only about six percent (1,480MW) of the total has been exploited yet.

Hydropower supporters have say that the International Panel Climate Change reports do not predict imminent threats to the sector in the region. Irregularity and intensity variations that the reports predict will not make a huge impact on the sector.

They argue that the fact that only 10 percent of the rivers are being fed by glaciers, climate change will not pose serious challenge to hydropower plants.

However, Van Vliet, said: “We show that technological developments with increases in power plant efficiencies…would reduce the vulnerability to water constraints in most regions. Improved cross-sectoral water management during drought periods is of course also important.”

Currently, 17 percent hydropower contributes to total electricity production worldwide.

Tshering Palden