Impacts of climate change and deforestation on hydropower planning in the Brazilian Amazon

Abstract

The Amazon Basin is Brazil’s next frontier for hydropower, but alterations to the water cycle from climate change and deforestation could affect river flows fuelling electricity generation. This research investigated the effects of global and regional changes to the largest network of planned and existing dams within a single basin in the Amazon (the Tapajόs River), which altogether accounts for nearly 50% of the inventoried potential expansion in Brazil. Future hydrological conditions could delay the period of maximum daily generation by 22–29 d, worsening the mismatch between seasonal electricity supply and peak demand. Overall, climate change could decrease dry season hydropower potential by 430–312 GWh per month (−7.4 to −5.4%), while combined effects of deforestation could increase interannual variability from 548 to 713–926 GWh per month (+50% to +69%). Incorporating future change and coordinating dam operations should be a premise in energy planning that could help develop more resilient energy portfolios.

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Fig. 1: The inventoried capacity of 37 existing and planned dams in the Tapajós basin could be 29.4 GW, equivalent to 27% of Brazil’s current installed capacity.
Fig. 2: Climate change could drive a >1-month shift in the seasonal peak of daily electricity generation of dams in the Tapajós basin, which will have implications for Brazil’s energy planning.
Fig. 3: Electricity generation during the minimum month per year is expected to decrease in magnitude and increase in variability.
Fig. 4: Understanding the future performance of individual dams can help to identify vulnerable projects that may not meet their expected contribution to the national electricity grid.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

This work was initiated while M.E.A., E.L., F.F. and A.L. were Giorgio Ruffolo Fellows in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University. Support from Italy’s Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea is gratefully acknowledged. F.F. was also funded through a doctoral scholarship by the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. The authors dedicate this study to the late Professor John Briscoe (1948–2014), who envisioned and co-led the Amazon Initiative of Harvard’s Sustainability Science Program.

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M.E.A., F.F., P.R.M. and J.B. designed the study. M.E.A. and F.F. collected and compiled the data. F.F., E.L. and M.E.A. designed the experiments and ran computer simulations. M.E.A. and F.F. carried out the data analysis. M.E.A. prepared all figures. M.E.A., F.F., E.L., A.L. and P.R.M. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Mauricio E. Arias.

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Arias, M.E., Farinosi, F., Lee, E. et al. Impacts of climate change and deforestation on hydropower planning in the Brazilian Amazon. Nat Sustain 3, 430–436 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0492-y

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