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Title: Spatial design principles for sustainable hydropower development in river basins

How can dams be arranged within a river basin such that they benefit society? Recent interest in this question has grown in response to the worldwide trend toward developing hydropower as a source of renewable energy in Asia and South America, and the movement toward removing unnecessary dams in the US. Environmental and energy sustainability are important practical concerns, and yet river development has rarely been planned with the goal of providing society with a portfolio of ecosystem services into the future. We organized a review and synthesis of the growing research in sustainable river basin design around four spatial decisions: Is it better to build fewer mainstem dams or more tributary dams? Should dams be clustered or distributed among distant subbasins? Where should dams be placed along a river? At what spatial scale should decisions be made? We came up with the following design principles for increasing ecological sustainability: (i) concentrate dams within a subset of tributary watersheds and avoid downstream mainstems of rivers, (ii) disperse freshwater reserves among the remaining tributary catchments, (iii) ensure that habitat provided between dams will support reproduction and retain offspring, and (iv) formulate spatial decision problems at the scale of large river basins.more » Based on our review, we discuss trade-offs between hydropower and ecological objectives when planning river basin development. We hope that future testing and refinement of principles extracted from our review will define a path toward sustainable river basin design.« less
 [1] ;  [1] ;  [2] ;  [3]
  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  2. The Nature Conservancy, OH (United States)
  3. Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 45; Journal Issue: C; Journal ID: ISSN 1364-0321
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
Country of Publication:
United States
13 HYDRO ENERGY; Freshwater reserve design; Hydroelectric power; Network theory; Optimization; Regulated rivers; River portfolio; Spatial decisions
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1251518