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Past, Present and Future of Hydroelectric Power Plants - Part 3: Future

written by: Haresh Khemani • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 9/29/2008

The main issues that will affect the future growth of hydroelectric power plants and hydroelectricity are related to environment, and human displacement and their resettlement. If these issues are tackled in compassionate manner there will greater chances of peaceful growth of the hydroelectricity.

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    Important Issues Concerning the Future Growth of Hydroelectric Power Plants

    Hydropower is the most widely used type of renewable energy source used for the generation of electricity on small scale as well as large scale basis. The generation of electricity from hydroelectric power plants produces no greenhouse gases, toxic waste and particulate matter.

    The main problem with the hydroelectric power plants is the ecological imbalance created by it especially in the downstream. With the environment conscious groups becoming more active these days, greater attention is given to the environmental concerns while considering the development of new hydroelectric power plant. Another important issue is the displacement of human beings from their native land occupied by them and their ancestors since centuries, and their proper resettlement.

    There is still huge potential for tapping power from water flowing in the rivers throughout the world. However, before considering the development of the new hydroelectric power plants the governments of the countries will have to address the above issues with full sincerity and transparency without keeping any concerned party in dark to avoid the protests cropping up in future against the expensive projects.

    We have seen one of the biggest protests of the human history against the hydroelectric power plant project in India. Even after the construction of major parts of Narmada Sarovar project, the protests are still going on now and then mainly because the resettlement issues have not been dealt properly. Some villages of my city are also covered under this project, so we have seen the protests very closely. In fact I have some friends and colleagues who were and are actively involved in these protests. I have even attended one or two meetings of these groups.

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    Potential of Hydroelectricity

    The total amount of power obtained from the hydroelectric power plants has increased by about 18% in the last 10 years from 1995 to 2005. The overall increase in power production from various sources throughout the world during same period has been 37%.

    As per the estimates throughout the world, the total hydropower that has the potential to be converted into hydroelectricity is about 14 000TWh, which is five times than the potential hydroelectricity which is being exploited today. Of the total potential hydroelectricity available in various parts of the world, 25% is each in Asia, South America and former Soviet Union. As per the current figures, North America and Europe utilize about half of their potential hydroelectricity, but Asia exploits 11%, former Soviet Union 7% and Africa only 4%.

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    Factors Affecting the Growth of Hydroelectricity

    Apart from the various issues for the development of the hydroelectric power plant, one of the major hindrances is funding of the hydroelectric power plant project. With the rising costs of cement, steel and iron the cost of the construction of hydroelectric power plant has become very expensive. The governments of various countries will have to look for the private investing companies and international organizations like World Bank to fund them. However, for this it is important that the project is viable and that all the concerned issues are addressed in entirety.

    If the issues of the environment, ecology, and human displacement and resettlement are not addressed right in the beginning of the project, there will be hardly anybody who will be willing to invest in the project. In fact the private investors prefer to invest in the thermal projects because of the previous bad experiences of improper planning of the project, not handling the resettlement issues, projects getting delayed, project becoming over budgeted etc.

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