Balancing water and energy needs for poverty reduction

Outcome story

Economic development means a greater demand for energy by both industry and private users. While hydropower offers a climate-smart energy supply, it could affect downstream ecosystems and communities. IWMI’s research into balancing these needs is giving planners the tools to make better decisions for equitable development to sustainably reduce poverty.

IWMI is part of the FutureDAMS research consortium, funded by UK Research and Innovation, which seeks solutions that consider the entire water-energy-food-environment (WEFE) nexus.

Myanmar, where IWMI has strong partnerships, aims to nearly triple its capacity to produce electricity by 2030. Much of that could come from hydropower in the Ayeyarwady River Basin, where many dams are planned or under construction. However, dams alone may not be the most effective solution taking into account the changing costs of other renewable energies such as solar power, and the predicted effects of climate change and the impacts of hydropower on the environment and food production, including rice and fisheries.

Because Ayeyarwady is the only FutureDAMS basin that falls almost entirely within one country, it presents a good opportunity to assist government policy. IWMI has not only been closely involved in developing online tools, it has also been training ministry staff and young power system and water professionals. The goal is to enable a holistic assessment of the WEFE system and increase understanding of the social, environmental and engineering implications of different investment choices. The challenge is that there are so many complex and interlinked decisions to be made.

With more efficient and effective water management strategies, local energy networks, water system planning and irrigation demands can be better coordinated. This allows water resources and energy and agricultural needs to be met simultaneously. Thus, a systems approach that considers energy, agricultural and other water users contributes to economic development and poverty reduction in the region.

Options to increase energy include a new thermal power plant in the north and a new reservoir with hydropower to provide energy in the south. A transmission line could connect the villages in the north and south, sharing energy between them. Water could be diverted for irrigation to increase food supply. All these factors have associated costs and other constraints. Furthermore, the final solution has to deliver a system robust enough to cope with uncertainty about water flows that may well be exacerbated by climate change.

Ultimately, there has to be a decision on how much water flows and where: the FutureDAMS model provides information on the relative costs and benefits of the different options. Taking into account almost a million simulations, the model provides a range of options that represent the potential ‘best’ outcomes over a 50-year time span.

IWMI also examined the benefits of the proposed Pwalugu Multipurpose Dam on the Volta River in northeast Ghana. Pwalugu lies between the Bagre Dam upstream in Burkina Faso and the Akosombo Dam downstream in Ghana. In this case, a simulation model compared managing the dam cooperatively with non-cooperative management.

The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, show that if Ghana and Burkina Faso integrated the management of their dams, they could both increase their energy production, and ergo their irrigation/agricultural production. However, there would still be some loss of downstream ecosystem services that would need to be mitigated.

Cooperation also maintains flooding downstream of Pwalugu, benefitting farmers who depend on the ecosystem services of seasonal floods. However, despite higher overall annual energy generation in Burkina Faso, this would also make the country more dependent on energy imports from Ghana during low flow periods.

The study shows how Ghana and Burkina Faso could negotiate cooperative strategies to offset possible negative impacts of the new Pwalugu Dam. Such negotiations could take place under the auspices of the Volta Basin Authority and provide a good example for basin management elsewhere.

More broadly, IWMI’s work with FutureDAMS proves how taking account of the whole WEFE nexus can provide greater benefits overall, thereby contributing to sustainable poverty reduction.

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