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Could protecting the Amazon boost its potential hydropower energy production?

*In other words: Could policies aimed at reducing deforestation in the Amazon basin—such as those included in the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program—have a substantial influence on regional and local hydrological processes in ways that could have significant implications for future hydropower production in the Brazilian Amazon?

Amazon forest scene

It is widely known that Amazon forests play a vital role in the world community by helping regulate our global climate and supporting extraordinary biodiversity. Less well known is how crucial intact Amazonian forests are to the well-being of the people who live in and around them. In fact, without policies that sufficiently protect forests and curb deforestation, hydropower producers in the Amazon will have a hard time keeping up with Brazil’s energy needs. This is because fewer trees will mean less rainfall in the region, and therefore less water available for hydropower production.

Recently researchers from WWF, the Woods Hole Research Center, Bowdoin College and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais teamed up to determine exactly how much hydropower potential a well-protected Amazon might provide in the future.

And that research shows that if we maintain and add protected areas across the entire Amazon basin (not just around individual hydropower dams), the Amazon could see a 12% increase in water volume available for hydropower production by 2050. That added water volume would translate to 9 billion more kilowatt hours in potential annual energy production—enough to power all the homes in Las Vegas for three years—meaning standing forests would deliver more energy benefits for people.

In addition, the monetary value of the increased energy and carbon sequestration provided by a better-protected Amazon is greater than the monetary value of the agricultural and urban benefits gained from deforestation—so a well-protected Amazon makes financial sense as well.

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