The blue water footprint of electricity from hydropower

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Hydropower accounts for about 16% of the world’s electricity supply. It has been debated whether hydroelectric generation is merely an in-stream water user or whether it also consumes water. In this paper we provide scientific support for the argument that hydroelectric generation is in most cases a significant water consumer. The study assesses the blue water footprint of hydroelectricity – the water

evaporated from manmade reservoirs to produce electric energy – for 35 selected sites. The aggregated blue water footprint of the selected hydropower plants is 90Gm3 yr−1, which is equivalent to 10% of the blue water footprint of global crop production in the year 2000. The total blue water footprint of hydroelectric generation in the world must be considerably larger if one considers the fact that this

study covers only 8% of the global installed hydroelectric capacity. Hydroelectric generation is thus a significant water consumer. The average water footprint of the selected hydropower plants is 68m3 GJ−1. Great differences in water footprint among hydropower plants exist, due to differences in climate in the places where the plants are situated, but more importantly as a result of large differences in the area

flooded per unit of installed hydroelectric capacity. We recommend that water footprint assessment is added as a component in evaluations of newly proposed hydropower plants as well as in the evaluation of existing hydroelectric dams, so that the consequences of the water footprint of hydroelectric generation on downstream environmental flows and other water users can be evaluated.

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