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Is small hydro 100% green?

Not surprisingly, up to 20 MW hydro project will have different and much smaller effects than a large one. However, small hydro plants also have an impact to the environment and society.

Small VS large hydro

If we compare small-scale hydro with a large one, it has much less environmental impact on wildlife or ecosystems mainly because the majority of small hydro plants are implemented in existing water infrastructures. In addition, it is obvious that up to 20 MW hydro project will have different and much smaller effects than, for instance, 10 GW one.

During this December’s Small Hydro event in Latin America, the panorama of small and large hydro plants will be discussed. There will be sessions, like the one delivered by Oscar J. Hurtado, Technical Director at Hidroevectrica Ituango, comparing challenges and impact that different size hydro plants have to the environment.

Is small hydro 100% green?

Even though small hydro projects are much more sustainable than large ones, they still have a big influence to the environment. We listed three most important problems associated with small hydro plants.

1.       Cumulative effect

The problem with small hydro plants is that you are going to need more of them to generate the same amount of energy. While few turbines won’t necessarily have a massive impact on the river and ecosystems, extensive use of small hydro plants will in fact affect them even more (per KW of power generated).

2.       Hydro and environment

Extensive use of small hydro plants may lead to environmental damages as well. Having too many projects around a single area may cause / lead to:

  • Water diversion / flow
  • Reduced water quality
  • Damaged ecosystems
  • Sediment movements
  • Flooding patterns

Solution here is quite straightforward – any stakeholder considering small hydro projects should invest fair amount of resources into research so that potential problems could be met with caution.

3.       Social impact

Communities can also be impacted by extensive or not properly planned use of small hydro plants. Even though infrastructural disruption (roads / power lines to access plant) is less significant for a small hydro compared with a large project, disruption measured in terms of KW of power generated is same or even greater in some cases.

In addition, extra care should be taken during risk assessment when building hydro plant, as extreme rain or drought may have a direct impact on local people’s safety.

Is there a solution?

The one and only answer to problems above is planning. There is no better time to build positive outcomes and avoid / reduce negative impacts than during development and design stage. This year Small Hydro Latin America conference will look into the planning stage, potential problems, challenges and solutions related to small hydro projects.

Countdown to Small Hydro Latin America 2017