Expert Commentary

Potential of water power in the fight against global warming

2008 University of Missouri study exploring the potential for hydropower in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydropower accounts for two-thirds of all renewable electricity production in the United States. A 2008 paper by the University of Missouri at Saint Louis, “The Potential of Water Power in the Fight Against Global Warming,” discusses the potential for hydropower in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The paper looks at the potential from new small and micro hydropower dams, increasing the capacity of existing large hydropower dams, adding generating facilities at non-hydropower dams and new technologies such as hydrokinetics. The cost-effectiveness of developing each type is examined as well as the energy potential by type and state.

The paper’s key findings are:

  • Hydropower can reduce U.S. carbon emissions by between 8.5% and 50% of 2003 emission levels and satisfy as much as 50% of current renewable portfolio standard goals for 18 states.
  • There is a large potential for small and micro hydropower development across the United States. Concentrating on just the most environmentally friendly sites would yield an increase of 75% from current hydropower production levels.
  • Estimates of the potential for increasing the generating capacity of current hydropower facilities vary widely, from 8% to 50%.
  • New generating potential from existing large dams (that are currently not generating any power) would add an additional 38% to the current hydropower capacity.
  • Estimates of hydrokinetic potential are still very preliminary. Estimates have ranged between 23,000 megawatts and 400,000 megawatts.

The authors concluded by stating that “while water power will never be the complete answer to emissions-free energy production, a strong case can be made that it can be a useful part of the answer.”

Photo by American Municipal Power. Tags: greenhouse gases, water, infrastructure,  renewable energy