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Rainforest Conservation and Hydropower Energy

Effects of Rainfall on Power in the Amazon and Xingu Basins
Effects of Rainfall on Power in the Amazon and Xingu Basins

Rainforests are more critical than previously thought in generating the rainfall that drives river flow, and ultimately power production, in tropical areas: if deforestation continues to increase in the Amazon, energy projections for one of the world’s largest dams, the Belo Monte in Brazil, decline by one third.

Conserving rainforests in the Amazon River Basin will increase the amount of electricity that hydropower projects in the area can produce. A study by Earth Innovation Institute scientists shows that rainforests are more critical than previously thought in generating the rainfall that drives river flow, and ultimately power production, in tropical areas. Our research shows that if deforestation continues to increase in the Amazon, energy projections for one of the world’s largest dams, the Belo Monte in Brazil, decline by one third. We modeled energy production under different levels of deforestation in the Amazon River Basin. The scenarios with more forests also produced the most power. With current deforestation levels in the region, the results show that rainfall is 6-7% lower than it would be with full forest cover. And with the 40% loss in rainforests that some predict will occur by 2050, rainfall would be 11-15% lower, resulting in 35-40% less power.

The huge strides Brazil has made in slowing Amazon deforestation are actually helping to secure the nation’s energy supply.

The potential loss of generation capacity due to regional deforestation could hinder Brazil’s efforts to meet its pending gap in electrical power. Specifically, our study shows that if the deforestation in the Amazon Basin goes unchecked, the energy supplied by Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam – planned to be the third largest hydropower project in the world – will fall 30% below current industry estimates, an amount equivalent to the energy consumption of four million Brazilians. These results are critical for long-term energy planning. Throughout the tropics, billions of dollars are being invested in new hydropower projects. Our research shows that the more rainforests that are left standing, the more water will remain in rivers and the more electricity will be generated by these plants.

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