Greenhouse gases

While many of the effects of a hydropower project are negative, the effect on greenhouse emissions should, on the face of it, be positive. The generation of hydropower does not involve creation of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately the situation is not that simple because a reservoir can become the source of methane and this gas is an even more efficient greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. (It is roughly eleven times more potent.)

A reservoir will become a source of methane if it contains a great deal of organic material - a tropical rain forest would be ideal - and conditions are right for anaerobic fermentation. In the worst case a hydropower plant can produce more greenhouse emissions, over its lifetime, than a similarly sized fossil-fuelled power plant.

Fortunately that is not normally the case. If the site is chosen carefully, and trees are cleared before inundation, the project should produce total greenhouse emissions equivalent to as little as 10% of the emissions in 1 year from a similarly sized fossil fuel plant. Most of that will be carbon dioxide generated as a result of the construction of the components of the plant.

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