Monday, February 22, 2010

Drought, climate change jeopardize and complicate hydropower policies around the world

Circle of Blue: On Tuesday Venezuela’s Energy Minister, Ali Rodriguez, said the government would consider purchasing electricity from Colombia, contradicting a statement from the country’s Vice President Elias Jaua given earlier this week.

…These conflicting statements reflect the already confused and poorly managed policies officials have attempted to implement against the country’s worst drought in nearly a century. In January, electricity rationing in Caracas was suspended after one day because of the chaos created by the power cuts to traffic signals and protests. As a result, energy consumption decreased by only two percent compared to last year–-far short of the goal of a 20 percent reduction, Bloomberg reports.

The source of 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity is the Guri dam. Low reservoir levels have forced power generation to be curtailed. At its current rate, the water level will drop to critical lows by the summer, in which case all power generation would stop. Critics argue that if the government had invested more money in the energy sector, Venezuela would have other sources available during the crisis.

The country’s energy struggles mirror problems in the rest of the hydro-reliant world. Many countries, especially in Africa, use hydroelectric dams to produce nearly all their electricity. The threat of more extreme drought from climate change is an uncertain variable for many hydroelectric producers. Climate models predict an overall decrease in precipitation and river runoff for the mid-latitude, sub-tropic and dry-tropic areas-–where hydropower is currently the primary source of electricity.

Persistent low water levels in rivers and reservoir cause power cuts, which hinder economic growth and reduce revenue from electricity sales, limiting the ability of an electric utility to maintain the dam. Some countries have recognized the risk and are already moving toward a more diversified energy future….

The Guri Dam in Venezuela, shot by Davidusb

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