A boom in hydropower dam construction is underway, primarily in developing countries and emerging economies. While this is expected to double the global electricity production from hydropower, it also could reduce the number of large free-flowing rivers by about 20% and pose a threat to freshwater biodiversity.

That's according to the University of Copenhagen, which also announces a new database to help inform sustainable electric power resource development.

The university says the dam construction boom will occur primarily in developing countries and emerging economies in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Renewables account for 20% of the global electricity production today, with hydropower contributing 80% of the total. An expected 3,700 major dams may more than double hydropower's total electricity capacity to 1,700 gigawatts within the next two decades.

If all planned dams are built, China would remain the global leader in hydropower dam construction although its share of total future global hydropower production would fall from 31% at present to 25%.

The Amazon and La Plata river basins in Brazil would have the largest total number of new dams in South America. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin (mainly in India and Nepal) and the Yangtze basin in China face the highest concentration of dam construction in Asia.

“When building new dams, it is important to follow a systematic management approach that considers the ecological, social and economic consequences of multiple dams within a river basin”, says professor Klement Tockner, Ph.D., head of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin. He leads the Institute´s research activities on sustainable hydropower development.

A new database to support decision making on sustainable modes of electricity production. The database is available in BioFresh, a platform for global freshwater biodiversity.

Additional Resources:

IHS Emerging Renewable Power Markets Advisory