Friday, October 3, 2014

Curb vast water use in central Asia/Nature magazine

Resources: Curb vast water use in central Asia
by Olli Varis
01 October 2014

Irrigation-intensive industries in former Soviet republics have sucked water bodies dry. Olli Varis calls for economic reform to ease environmental and social tensions.

A boat rusts on the bed of the dried Aral Sea, more than 90% of which has vanished in the past 50 years.
Shipwrecks rusting in the desert have come to symbolize the environmental havoc that has befallen the Aral Sea, which straddles Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. More than 90% of what was once the fourth-largest lake in the world has vanished in half a century1, 2, 3. The cracked shores are symptoms of the dramatic overuse of water in central Asia. Since the 1960s, 70% of Turkmenistan has become desert, and half of Uzbekistan's soil has become salty owing to dust blown from the dry bed of the Aral Sea1.

The republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were developed as farming states to supply produce to the former Soviet Union1. Today, they are among the highest per capita users of water in the world — on average, each Turkmen consumes 4 times more water than a US citizen, and 13 times more than a Chinese one4 (see 'Top 20 consumers'). More than 90% of the region's water use is irrigating thirsty crops including cotton and wheat1, 2.

Decades of over-extraction have nearly sucked dry the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that feed the Aral Sea. Local livelihoods that rely on livestock grazing, hunting and fishing have disappeared; ecosystems in the Aral's brackish waters, deltas, coasts, steppes and fertile river valleys have collapsed1. As water bodies have vanished, the local climate has become harsher: summers bring extreme heat and violent, salty dust storms; winters are more severely cold. The wind spreads salt and agrochemicals to farmlands hundreds of kilometres away, causing respiratory and gastroenterological diseases as well as anaemia, cancer and tuberculosis3, 5.

Struggling to shake off the Soviet legacy of environmental and political crises and oligarchies, these republics are more rivals than neighbours. Because most of the region's water bodies — mainly the Syr Darya, Amu Darya and Zarafshon rivers — are shared, political tensions have grown around water access, drawing worrying parallels with similar crises in the Arab world.

The first step is to recognize that the origin of central Asia's water problems is in excessive water demand. Fixing the problem will mean developing regional industries that are less water intensive and more profitable than agriculture, by tapping human potential rather than natural resources. Unless the region's economy can be put on a more sustainable footing, the stability and security of central Asia is in danger.

Shortage myth
Two fallacies stymie debate about water in central Asia. The first is that the region is short of water. The landscape looks dry and rivers run empty. Many analyses in the past few years3, 5 have thus recommended water-conservation measures, assuming that incremental policy changes are all that can be delivered. In fact, these countries have plenty of water relative to their populations. The annual availabilities of fresh water per capita for the Amu Darya (2,087 cubic metres) and the Syr Darya (1,744 m3) river basins6 are well above the United Nations definitions of water shortages7: 1,000 m3 per capita constitutes a chronic shortage, and 1,700 m3 a moderate shortage. By comparison, Denmark has 1,128 m3 of water per capita, Germany 1,878 m3 and the United Kingdom 2,465 m3(ref. 4).

The second fallacy is that the solution is agricultural. Most analysts propose that water should be used more efficiently on farms because it is wasted in growing low-return crops on dry lands unsuitable for agricultural use. Turkmenistan's dry climate and poor soils mean that producing a tonne of wheat takes 2,000–4,000 m3 of irrigation water, whereas in nearby northern Kazakhstan adequate rainfall and conditions mean that no irrigation is needed. Even as its land became parched, Turkmenistan's wheat yield increased ninefold between 1992 and 2007.

But the big fish swims elsewhere: the agricultural share of gross domestic product (GDP) in central Asia has almost halved since the disintegration of the Soviet Union4. Instead, economic growth is dominated by the oil and gas industry and by urban expansion. Already, more than half of the region's population is urban and that proportion is rising.

Despite this, central Asian economies continue to focus on primary industries such as agriculture and the extraction of fossil fuels. The economic return on water is lower in central Asia than anywhere else on the planet. Turkmenistan uses nearly 3 times more water than India to produce one GDP dollar, 4 times more than Egypt, 14 times more than China and 43 times more than Spain4.

Rising tension
The resulting problems are greater than just stagnant economies. Disputes (see 'Troubled waters') between nations have arisen around access to shared water bodies in the Fergana Valley in the Syr Darya river basin, in the Zarafshon river basin, and in Amu Darya — most notably concerning the Nurek dam and Turkmen–Uzbek rivalries on water appropriation.

These tensions are stoked by absurd projects such as the Golden Age Lake (Altyn Asyr) in the Karakum Desert8, 9. Projected to cover almost half the area of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the synthetic lake will be about six times its volume. Since 2000, Turkmenistan has been constructing it, claiming it will increase agricultural production and offer a "symbol of revival of the Turkmen land", as former president Saparmurat Niyazov (known as Turkmenbashi) put it9.

Water for the lake will be drawn from the Amu Darya river through two canals, which are being cut across about 3,200 km of desert8, 9. Although it is unclear whether that much water can ever be sourced from the river, it is obvious that downstream, Uzbekistan will not accept those diversions and is ready to defend its water share with arms if necessary. The already serious soil-salinization problems of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be greatly worsened if the project is completed.

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More related stories
Like most other parts of the former Soviet Union, central Asian states suffer authoritarian rule and political fragility. Soaring unemployment is leading to a mass emigration of educated people. Current figures estimate that up to one-third of working-age Tajiks are employed abroad. Ethnic, political and religious diversity and difficulties with boundary demarcation fuel nationalism. Internal hostilities, as in the Caucasus, Moldova and eastern Ukraine, are a threat. A full-scale regional conflict, regardless of the rise of radical religious groups, is not out of the question.

Central Asia's water crisis echoes that in the Middle East and North Africa, where political, economic and environmental issues are also intertwined. In Arab countries such as Syria, Yemen and Tunisia, water is scarce and used for low-value purposes, generating little income or investment10. Urban populations are fast-growing but ill-served by development policies focused on traditional rural and primary industries. Political and professional inertia makes change difficult.

Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times/Redux/eyevine
Kazakhstan's capital Astana: rapid urban expansion will influence the region's water use.
Three main differences may make the situation in the former Soviet republics worse than in the Middle East. First, investments in the central Asian water sector are even less productive and more conflict-prone than in Arab countries. Second, water is more abundant in central Asia but environmental disasters have been more severe there than in Arab countries. Third, Arab cities absorb immigrants more successfully and grow faster than those in central Asia, where skilled workers tend to emigrate to countries outside the region, notably Russia.

The central Asian countries must find joint interests and competitive advantages to build a new regional economy, with wise water use at its heart. These countries could have a much more conscious role in world politics and in the global economy by looking at their complementary strengths and merging their markets.

Human potential
The human resources of central Asia are relatively untapped. The republics have essentially full adult literacy and well over 90% of adults have secondary education8. The nations are in a favourable geographical position between diverse markets, including China, Russia, the Middle East and Europe.

Different national strengths should be exploited: Turkmenistan is rich in oil, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in hydropower, for instance. Urban economies, services, manufacturing and knowledge-intensive industries should be boosted by governance reforms.

Realizing human potential would require policies to attract investments, maintain and enhance high standards of education, help industries to grow, and empower a bigger share of the population to contribute to political decision-making. Inertia may be the real bottleneck.

Experience from elsewhere abounds. Information and communication technology brings in more than one-quarter of India's export earnings; China, South Korea, Vietnam and some other ex-Soviet states — notably Estonia — have also created knowledge-based industries almost from scratch. Such industries provide intellectually attractive, high-income jobs for the younger generation and put little strain on water resources and the environment.

International policy-makers and the water sector must refocus and look much more broadly at water's role in the region's political and economic development. That wider perspective should guide the next round of water-resources assessments, as well as top-level international policy meetings such as the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea, in April 2015.

The alternative could be much worse: more iron wreckage on the drylands — this time of military origin.

Nature 514, 27–29 (02 October 2014) doi:10.1038/514027a

References available online

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Hydropower Really Green?

Is Renewable Energy Really Green?
Guest post written by Kamala Vainy Pillai PhD
Forbes Opinion,
September 24, 2014

The global green rush to move away from fossil fuel dependence has
incontestably led to a plethora of renewable energy initiatives – some
sounding sexier and more appealing than others. From the traditional
renewable energy like hydropower, wind, solar and biofuel, today's
alternative renewable energies using disruptive technologies promises
innumerable avenues for a host of communities and nations. Anaerobic
digestion energy, biomass, geothermal, ocean energy such as ocean
thermal, tidal or wave energy, solar thermal and tower power
technologies are already joining the bandwagon of emerging stars. Yet,
are Renewables really green?

The concept of renewable energy generally denotes clean energy systems
that do not contribute to greenhouse gas emission (GHE) and climate
change. As renewables get into top gear, growing evidence of
non-inclusion of social conscience in the name of renewable energy
development as well as severe environmental damage is unmasking the dark
side of renewables.

In this article, we will look at hydropower. The global hydropower
market according to investment analysts is predicted to expand over the
next few years as a less risky and more popular clean energy. While the
predictions sound promising, controversies over mega hydropower dam
projects and its socio-environmental sustainability issues present
confounding facts. Mega hydro dams have been successful in Canada, the
United States and other industrialized nations; however, the same cannot
be said for the tropical regions. Deforestation and the flooding
(inundation) of thousands of hectares of rainforest for mega hydro dam
projects in the Amazon and Borneo, which represents the planet's largest
and oldest rainforests have received intense criticisms. According to
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), tropical rainforests which serve as our
planet's carbon sink, holds more than 210 gigatonnes of carbon.
Deforestation is responsible for more than 15% of greenhouse gas
emissions (GHG) – more than any other human activity put together, has a
potent impact on accelerating global warming. In the case of mega hydro
dams, the inundation (flooding) of tropical rainforest has triggered a
cataclysm. The slow decay of rich organic rainforest matter flooded in
the mega dam is expected to take centuries – consuming more oxygen at
any given time, inconvertibly leading to oxygen-deprivation and high
acidity of waters. This state has resulted in poor quality of drinking
water as well as for household use to communities downstream. Further,
due to the alterations of the composition and density of vectors,
incidences of public health problems are on the rise and even death or
extinction of animal and plant life as far as 100 km from the mega dam
site have been reported. In 2013, National Geographic expounded on the
extinction of endangered migratory fish in the upstream of mega dams in
most South American countries like Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Similarly, in Asia, the rare Asian river dolphins like the Indus
dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins have become endangered by the
alterations of rivers for mega dams. Late August this year,
International Rivers launched "The State of the World's Rivers" the
first-of-its-kind interactive online database to illustrate the impacts
on the health of the world's river basins as a result of the mega dams.

Continued displacement of the planet's oldest and largest indigenous
communities in the rainforest region of the Amazon and Borneo has drawn
global attention and civil society accessions. With growing legal
disputes over indigenous land encroachments, mega dam hydro projects in
these regions have become controversial as well as complicated for clean
energy investors. The Belo Monte Dam, for instance, expected to be one
of the largest after the Three Gorges Dam in China and the
Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu Dam, continues to be legally disputed by the
Kayapos and indigenous communities who have been living there for
centuries. Displaced indigenous communities like the Penans, as a
result of the mega Bakun Hydro Dam in Borneo, are reported to be
experiencing emotional traumas as a result of the dispossession of their
lands and displacement from their centuries-old nomadic way of life.
Remote communities around these sites are reported to be still without
electricity, as the grids built mainly serve smelters and industrial
operations in the area.

One of the factors cited for this state of affair is the inefficient and
inequitable social and environmental impact assessment (SEIA) conducted
prior to these projects. It appears that the SEIA reports have endorsed
massive relocation of indigenous communities and offered limited or no
consideration of the irreversible impact on wildlife and ecosystems
downstream from the mega renewable energy sites. In 2012, in its
sourcebook for "Getting to Green" guideline, the World Bank reiterated
that too many environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are being
conducted by poorly trained EIA practitioners with limited capacity and
environmental information, leading to poor-quality reports.

Although international development funding agencies, energy companies
and governments have hit a hard wall due to stalled or underperforming
mega renewable projects, they assert that the above competing
perspectives would change over time with increased social and economic
benefits. An Oxford study published this year, present a confounding
verdict. The study which scientifically analyzed the economics of mega
dams from 1934 to 2007, included 245 projects in 65 countries, confirmed
that mega dams suffered cost overruns of 96 per cent. The Oxford
researches affirmed that even without social and environmental cost
consideration, the mega dams did not make economic sense. The
staggering findings are expected to have a significant implication on
the future of energy sector planning.

The deliberation propounds three pertinent points for renewable energy
proponents – firstly, large scale renewable energy projects may not be
as 'green and clean' as prophesied; secondly, with rising pluralism and
conscious green consumers, renewable energy projects would be subject to
greater scrutiny for societal and environmental impacts and hence,
should demonstrate greater social-environmental accountability; and
finally, the compelling findings on the mega hydro dams being uneconomic
with cost overruns which are too high to yield a positive return,
presents a new debate for the renewable energy outlook.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dams will not solve all Africa’s energy problems

Dams will not solve all Africa's energy problems
Opinion piece by Rudo Sanyanga
Business Day (South Africa), September 4, 2014

[This commentary also appeared in Swedish by Svenska Dagbladet on
September 3, 2014, at]

THE world's water experts convene in Stockholm on Thursday where King
Carl Gustav will present the city's Water Prize to John Briscoe, a
Harvard professor and former water manager at the World Bank. After many
years spent in the international water bureaucracy, Briscoe says he is
"controversial and proud of it". Indeed, the jury's choice raises
contentious questions about how best to manage water resources for the
shared benefit of all.

Since the turn of the century, John Briscoe has been the world's
pre-eminent crusader for large dams in Africa and other continents. In
the 20th century, Europe developed approximately 80 percent of its
hydropower potential, while Africa has still only exploited 8 percent of
its own. It would be hypocritical, Briscoe contends, to withhold funds
for more dam building in Africa now.

Africa has tried to follow Europe's path to industrial development
before. With funding and advice from the World Bank and other
institutions, newly independent governments built large dams that were
supposed to industrialise and modernise their countries in the 1960s and
1970s. The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi, the Akosombo Dam on the Volta and
the Inga 1 and 2 dams on the Congo River are the most prominent examples
of this approach.

Mega-dams have not turned out to be a silver bullet, but a big albatross
on Africa's development. Their costs spiraled out of control creating
massive debt burdens, while their performance did not live up to the
expectations. Their benefits were concentrated on mining companies and
urban middle classes, while the rural population has been left high and
dry. Africa has become the world region that is most dependent on
hydropower. As rainfalls are becoming ever less reliable, this has made
the continent highly vulnerable to climate change.

In 2008, mining companies consumed more electricity than the whole
population in Sub-Saharan Africa. After tens of billions of dollars in
foreign aid have been spent on energy projects, 69 percent of the
continent's population continues to live in the dark. Prioritising the
needs of mining companies and big cities over the rural populations, the
World Bank's latest dam projects in Africa will further entrench this
energy apartheid.

Meanwhile, the communities which were displaced by the Kariba and Inga
dams continue to struggle for just compensation decades after the
projects were built. Because poor people pay the price but don't reap
the benefits of these investments, the independent World Commission on
Dams has found that dams "can effectively take a resource from one group
and allocate it to another". The Tonga people, who were displaced by the
Kariba Dam and suffered starvation as a consequence, have to this date
remained without clean water or electricity despite the huge reservoir
at their doorsteps.

Luckily solutions that don't sacrifice one group of people for the
benefits of another are available today. Wind, solar and geothermal
energy have become competitive with hydropower. Unlike large dams, these
energy sources don't depend on centralised electric grids, but can serve
the needs of the rural populations wherever they live. This is why the
International Energy Agency recommends that the bulk of foreign energy
aid be devoted to decentralised renewable energy sources if the goal of
sustainable energy for all by 2030 is to be met. A diverse,
decentralised portfolio of renewable energy projects will also make
African countries more resilient to climate change than putting all eggs
into the basket of a few mega-dams.

Just because Europe developed with large dams in the 20th century
doesn't mean Africa has to do the same today. In the telecom sector,
Africa has successfully leapfrogged Europe's landline model and relied
on cell phone companies to provide access to the majority of the
population. Like cell phone towers, wind, solar and micro-hydropower
projects can be built quickly, close to where people need them, and
without major environmental impacts.

Large dams may still make sense in specific situations, but Africa's
future is lit by the sun. We appreciate that John Briscoe has
reinvigorated an important debate about large dams. But we hope that in
the coming years, the Stockholm Water Prize will celebrate the solutions
of the future rather than the past.

A native of Zimbabwe, Rudo Sanyanga holds a Ph.D. in Aquatic Systems
Ecology from Stockholm University. She is the Africa Program Director of
International Rivers and is based in Pretoria.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Large Dams Just Aren't Worth the Cost

Large Dams Just Aren't Worth the Cost
Opinion - Jacques Leslie
The New York Times, August 22, 2014

THAYER SCUDDER, the world's leading authority on the impact of dams on
poor people, has changed his mind about dams.

A frequent consultant on large dam projects, Mr. Scudder held out hope
through most of his 58-year career that the poverty relief delivered by
a properly constructed and managed dam would outweigh the social and
environmental damage it caused. Now, at age 84, he has concluded that
large dams not only aren't worth their cost, but that many currently
under construction "will have disastrous environmental and
socio-economic consequences," as he wrote in a recent email.

Mr. Scudder, an emeritus anthropology professor at the California
Institute of Technology, describes his disillusionment with dams as
gradual. He was a dam proponent when he began his first research project
in 1956, documenting the impact of forced resettlement on 57,000 Tonga
people in the Gwembe Valley of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Construction of the Kariba Dam, which relied on what was then the
largest loan in the World Bank's history, required the Tonga to move
from their ancestral homes along the Zambezi River to infertile land
downstream. Mr. Scudder has been tracking their disintegration ever since.

Once cohesive and self-sufficient, the Tonga are troubled by
intermittent hunger, rampant alcoholism and astronomical unemployment.
Desperate for income, some have resorted to illegal drug cultivation and
smuggling, elephant poaching, pimping and prostitution. Villagers still
lack electricity.

Mr. Scudder's most recent stint as a consultant, on the Nam Theun 2 Dam
in Laos, delivered his final disappointment. He and two fellow advisers
supported the project because it required the dam's funders to carry out
programs that would leave people displaced by the dam in better shape
than before the project started. But the dam was finished in 2010, and
the programs' goals remain unmet. Meanwhile, the dam's three owners are
considering turning over all responsibilities to the Laotian government
- "too soon," Mr. Scudder said in an interview. "The government wants to
build 60 dams over the next 20 or 30 years, and at the moment it doesn't
have the capacity to deal with environmental and social impacts for any
single one of them."

"Nam Theun 2 confirmed my longstanding suspicion that the task of
building a large dam is just too complex and too damaging to priceless
natural resources," he said. He now thinks his most significant
accomplishment was not improving a dam, but stopping one: He led a 1992
study that helped prevent construction of a dam that would have harmed
Botswana's Okavango Delta, one of the world's last great wetlands.

Part of what moved Mr. Scudder to go public with his revised assessment
was the corroboration he found in a stunning Oxford University study
published in March in Energy Policy. The study, by Atif Ansar, Bent
Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn, draws upon cost statistics
for 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007. Without even taking into
account social and environmental impacts, which are almost invariably
negative and frequently vast, the study finds that "the actual
construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return."

The study's authors - three management scholars and a statistician - say
planners are systematically biased toward excessive optimism, which dam
promoters exploit with deception or blatant corruption. The study finds
that actual dam expenses on average were nearly double pre-building
estimates, and several times greater than overruns of other kinds of
infrastructure construction, including roads, railroads, bridges and
tunnels. On average, dam construction took 8.6 years, 44 percent longer
than predicted - so much time, the authors say, that large dams are
"ineffective in resolving urgent energy crises."

DAMS typically consume large chunks of developing countries' financial
resources, as dam planners underestimate the impact of inflation and
currency depreciation. Many of the funds that support large dams arrive
as loans to the host countries, and must eventually be paid off in hard
currency. But most dam revenue comes from electricity sales in local
currencies. When local currencies fall against the dollar, as often
happens, the burden of those loans grows.

One reason this dynamic has been overlooked is that earlier studies
evaluated dams' economic performance by considering whether
international lenders like the World Bank recovered their loans - and in
most cases, they did. But the economic impact on host countries was
often debilitating. Dam projects are so huge that beginning in the
1980s, dam overruns became major components of debt crises in Turkey,
Brazil, Mexico and the former Yugoslavia. "For many countries, the
national economy is so fragile that the debt from just one mega-dam can
completely negatively affect the national economy," Mr. Flyvbjerg, the
study's lead investigator, told me.

To underline its point, the study singles out the massive Diamer-Bhasha
Dam, now under construction in Pakistan across the Indus River. It is
projected to cost $12.7 billion (in 2008 dollars) and finish
construction by 2021. But the study suggests that it won't be completed
until 2027, by which time it could cost $35 billion (again, in 2008
dollars) - a quarter of Pakistan's gross domestic product that year.

Using the study's criteria, most of the world's planned mega-dams would
be deemed cost-ineffective. That's unquestionably true of the gargantuan
Inga complex of eight dams intended to span the Congo River - its first
two projects have produced huge cost overruns - and Brazil's purported
$14 billion Belo Monte Dam, which will replace a swath of Amazonian rain
forest with the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam.

Instead of building enormous, one-of-a-kind edifices like large dams,
the study's authors recommend "agile energy alternatives" like wind,
solar and mini-hydropower facilities. "We're stuck in a 1950s mode where
everything was done in a very bespoke, manual way," Mr. Ansar said over
the phone. "We need things that are more easily standardized, things
that fit inside a container and can be easily transported."

All this runs directly contrary to the current international
dam-building boom. Chinese, Brazilian and Indian construction companies
are building hundreds of dams around the world, and the World Bank
announced a year ago that it was reviving a moribund strategy to fund
mega-dams. The biggest ones look so seductive, so dazzling, that it has
taken us generations to notice: They're brute-force, Industrial Age
artifacts that rarely deliver what they promise.

Jacques Leslie is the author, most recently, of "Deep Water: The Epic
Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment."

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why Control of a Terrifying Dam in Iraq Is Life or Death for Half Million People

Why Control of a Terrifying Dam in Iraq Is Life or Death for Half
Million People
ABC News, Aug 7, 2014
By LEE FERRAN and MAZIN FAIQ, Investigative Reporter

There are conflicting reports out today about whether the extremist
group ISIS has taken control over Iraq's largest and most dangerous dam,
which Iraqi officials had previously said was safe under the protection
of Kurdish forces.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, wrote on their website today
that they are in control of the two-mile-wide Mosul Dam, echoing claims
the group made over the weekend. Iraqi media reports and a Kurdish
official have supported the claim. But late Wednesday and early today,
two Iraqi government officials, one from the Ministry of Water Resources
and the other familiar with the dam's operations, told ABC News ISIS had
not taken the dam and said that it is functioning as usual.

The question of control is a critical one for the millions of Iraqis who
live downstream of the Mosul Dam all the way down the Tigris to Baghdad,
because if the dam was taken over, ISIS would be in control of what
could effectively be a major weapon of mass destruction – one that the
U.S. military said in 2006 was, without the help of brutal jihadists,
already "the most dangerous dam in the world."

It wouldn't even have to be sabotaged to fail – if an extremist group
took control and wanted the dam to break, they may be able to simply do

The gargantuan dam, built in the mid-1980s, was constructed on "a
foundation of soluble soils that are continuously dissolving, resulting
in the formation of cavities and voids underground that place the dam at
risk for failure," said an urgent letter sent from David Petraeus, then
commanding general of the U.S. Army, and Ryan Crocker, then U.S.
Ambassador to Iraq, to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2007.
[The Mosul Dam was built by the German-Italian Hochtief consortium -
International Rivers]

The dam requires "extraordinary engineering measures" – namely constant
grouting operations -- to fill in the holes and "maintain the structural
integrity and operating capability of the dam," according to a U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers (USACE) report from the same year.

For 30 years –- and through several periods of violent conflict -- the
Iraqi government has managed to keep the dam upright by continuously
pumping in literally tons of grout like an industrial version of the
little Dutch boy, as a geotechnical expert who worked on the dam put it.

But the U.S. says any failure of the dam could be "catastrophic."

"[T]he most severe impact of a dam failure would be [for] the City of
Mosul, located 50 kilometers [31 miles] downstream of the dam,"
Petraeus' and Crocker's 2007 letter says. "Assuming a worse [sic] case
scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum
operating level could result in a flood wave over 20 meters [65 feet]
deep at the City of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of
life and property." Mosul alone is estimated to be home to more than 1.5
million people. Flood waters, albeit at a lower level, could reach all
the way to Baghdad, more than 200 miles further down the Tigris,
depending on the performance of another smaller dam further downriver.

A 2011 report written by a USACE official and published in Water Power
magazine estimated failure "could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian

The Water Power article states that Iraq is "fully aware of the
challenges facing the ageing structure," but as USACE civil engineer
David Paul told the magazine at the time, "there is no precedence for
what they are trying to achieve" in finding a more permanent solution to
the dam's problems than never-ending grouting – including the proposed
use of an incredibly large "cutoff wall" to help mitigate the seepage.
There are other measures that can be taken, such as keeping the
reservoir levels lower than the maximum to reduce pressure on the dam;
that was one of several recommendations the U.S. government made in 2007.

But none totally fix the problem and the geotechnical expert who spoke
to ABC News said that he didn't have reason to believe the dam is any
better off today than it was when the USACE report was published in 2007.

That was also before a powerful jihadist group borne of the Syrian civil
war began its deadly march across Iraq and reportedly up to Mosul Dam's
doorstep. Like today, earlier this week there were conflicting reports
about whether ISIS had taken control of the dam during a previous
24-hour offensive in the area.

Tuesday the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources circulated a statement
saying the dam was not under ISIS control but has been protected by
Kurdish peshmerga troops. The government department reiterated the claim
earlier today.

A second Iraqi official involved with the dam's operations said
Wednesday that grouting supplies were safe and there was plenty in store.

"Grouting is still ongoing and never stopped," said the official, who
asked his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the

But what if ISIS does eventually overtake the dam? Or what if it already

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Mosul
Dam "has been in the sights of [ISIS] since its offensive began in June
to further threaten and terrorize the Iraqi people."

In addition to flooding concerns, the dam is also a "key source" of
power and water for the surrounding area – making it a vital piece of
infrastructure either way, another State Department spokesperson told
ABC News Wednesday. An American intelligence source agreed and said that
ISIS's potential control over and exploitation of power and water is a
focus of U.S. intelligence community.

The Iraqi official involved in the dam's operations refused to respond
to the dire hypothetical of ISIS control Wednesday, but a U.S.
government official long-familiar with the dam said it's an unsettling
idea made more so by a litany of unanswered questions. ISIS may not want
the dam to fail, considering it controls territory that would be flooded
and could leverage their control over the water and power source, but
the U.S. official said it would still be up to the jihadist group to
keep the grouting going.

"If ISIS does indeed have or gain control of the dam, will they listen
to the dam engineers who have been working there for decades and who
understand the need for constant grouting? … And then this is the
biggie: If they can't or don't want to grout, how long will the dam
last?... And if it fails, will it be a catastrophic all-at-once failure
or more of a slowly building uncontrolled release?" the official told
ABC News. "The short answer is no one knows. This is all guesswork anyway."

The official said that he is not aware of official U.S. calculations
about how long the dam would last without grouting but says he
understands it to be "on the order of weeks, not months." The
geotechnical expert agreed that "weeks" was a skeptical, but entirely
possible estimation.

"The potential for a disaster can't be ruled by and should be of great
concern to all parties involved," the U.S. official said.

The U.S. State Department told ABC News late Wednesday the department is
"monitoring the situation closely." Officials at the Pentagon did not
immediately respond to questions about whether any contingency plans are
in place in case ISIS does take over the dam.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

10 things you should know about investment in renewable energy /The Guardian

10 things you should know about investment in renewable energy

In a recent panel, experts shared their thoughts on how to increase investment in renewables amid falling prices, policy uncertainty and emerging tech
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1. Solar and wind are cheaper than you think!

Despite an investor assumption that renewables are expensive, "this stuff is really cheap", said Bloomberg New Energy Finance's Jenny Chase. There are plenty of places where solar and wind already make economic sense, provided investment conditions are right.

People will start buying solar panels for their houses - without the need for subsidies - because it makes financial sense, Chase said. Panels now sell for less than a quarter of their 2008 price. And they won't be restricted to rooftops: Solar and wind plants are increasingly feeding into the grid and fulfilling the energy needs of large local power users, such as factories, in India and Chile.

Bloomberg estimates that the world will have 600GW of photovoltaic solar worldwide by 2020 (an increase from about 150GW today) and 1,900GW by 2030; making up 5-7% of the global electricity mix. These positive predictions are based on the falling prices of renewables.

2. Policy uncertainty is the biggest obstacle to investment in renewables

Governments are failing to take up the challenge and lead the way on renewables. The energy debate has become too politicised, argued EY's Ben Warren, and a lack of cohesive and stable policy has undermined a "long-term view on investment in renewable energy". Among the problems are skewed tax relief, fossil fuel subsidies and retroactive changes to renewable incentives, which make them risky to investors, panelists said.

Politicians are also listening to the wrong people, said Bruce Davis of Abundance Generation. The increasingly vocal lobbying of those with vested interests in slowing the growth of renewables is being heard more than the majority of voters who are in favour.

3. Regulators are getting better, although they still have 'sharp teeth'

That said, panelists were positive about the role of regulators, at least in the UK. Davis, who runs crowdfunding organisation Abundance Generation, said he is constantly updating the Financial Conduct Authority about innovations and the benefits crowdfunding can bring to investors without compromising investor protections.

"There is a world of difference between the old [Financial Services Authority] and the new FCA approach," he said. "That is not to say they don't have sharp teeth, but they do make efforts to listen to evidence and form policy based on real experiences of platforms."

4. Germany, Denmark and South Africa are good role models on renewables

Germany and Denmark have made great strides on renewables - partly because they have a diverse and large ownership base, said Co-operative Energy's Paul Monaghan. Germany has over 800 renewable energy co-operatives and the government has made - and stuck to - strong incentives for renewables, while in Denmark, communities have the right to invest and profit from wind turbine programs, which creates a broad political base for policy support.

The South African government has also done well on getting the best prices. It held a competitive tender, asking a simple question: "who wants to sell us wind and solar power for the lowest prices?" It was a simple but effective strategy that was clearly aligned with the long-term goals of government and also creates sustainable jobs locally, Davis said.

5. Business is leading the way

Corporates and individuals are taking the lead and hoping that policy will eventually follow. Business interruption risk and price volatility mean that an increasing number of businesses are taking a strategic approach to energy procurement. "Direct procurement of renewable energy might just prove to be one way for the sector to reduce its dependence on government policy," Warren said.

Software company SAP's Will Ritzrau said of his company's policy: "we look at renewables as a long term approach to control our energy cost and thus margin impact."

6. We need a diversity of projects

Having as many models as possible, from small-scale initiatives to large-scale projects, will be the key to financing the necessary energy transition, Emma Howard Boyd said.

According to Davis, co-operatives are good models where there is a motivated community with the requisite time and expertise. But it's also important to have schemes that appeal to commercial developers and make them more open to community involvement.

7. The public are up for renewables

Poll after poll shows that people have bought into the idea of renewables, Monghan said; now we have to unlock the big institutional investors. Crowdfunding can provide an easy way for people to get involved in projects that have already been vetted and will offer reasonable returns. Plus, organisations such as Share Action and Divestment are helping people have control over where their money is invested.

8. Developing countries could spearhead innovation

We may well see the flow of innovation reverse, with developed markets being disrupted by companies from developing markets. Energy innovation using mobile technology is one clear example of where this could happen: "more people in India own mobile phones than they do toothbrushes", Ashden's Chhavi Sharma said.

Sharma pointed to innovations such as M-PESA, which have allowed the renewable energy sector to leapfrog in Africa. Enterprises such as Off.Grid:Electric are using a service-based model and selling pay-as-you-go solar that can be paid for daily using mobile money, akin to setting up a micro-utility.

9. Power of the internet

It's hard to imagine how crowdfunding would work in an internet-free world, Chase said. The "internet of things" and broadband availability will enable automated and smart energy consumption. Large amounts of information will be needed to make the energy markets work. Soon smart technology will control various appliances so your fridge will stop cooling if the power price spikes, and other devices can be switched on or off automatically according to need.

Social media - and the internet more generally - have the potential to accelerate the awareness and acceptance of new technology. New and viable ideas, especially if they benefit individuals, will survive and grow. However, growing into a conservative market too early is also risky and some big companies may be a little more cautious about adopting potentially too-radical innovation.

10. There's some way to go

There have been leaps and bounds in terms of innovation and affordability, which have helped renewables to become an attractive investment opportunity. But if we are to reach the kind of levels required for a genuine energy transition, there's much more to be done. Investors should continue to view opportunities realistically, but also remain open-minded enough to recognise - and tap - the great renewable opportunities that exist.

The finance hub is funded by EY. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Government Audit Finds Hydropower Aid Doesn't Benefit the Poor

Government Audit Finds Hydropower Aid Doesn't Benefit the Poor
By Peter Bosshard
Huffington Post, July 8, 2014

No other industrialized country relies on hydropower for its own power
generation as much as Norway. Norwegian companies build hydropower dams
around the world, including controversial projects like the Theun
Hinboun Dam in Laos. Norwegian development aid actively supports the
interests of the hydropower sector. Norway is also promoting hydropower
in international organizations and diplomatic initiatives.

Since the turn of the century, Norway has spent more than NOK 12 billion
(approximately $1.5 billion) on development assistance for the energy
sector. This aid consists of the following elements:

. Almost half of the assistance supported investments in mid-sized
hydropower projects in Chile, the Philippines and other countries
through SN Power, a state-owned investment company. The projects in
which SN Power has invested include Allain Duhangan in Northern India, a
dam that was bitterly opposed by the local population.

. Norwegian aid supports the planning and construction of transmission
lines, including a project that would export power from the
controversial dams in the rainforest of Sarawak to Indonesia.

. Norway is strengthening the capacity of Southern governments to build
hydropower projects, and funds feasibility studies for specific
projects. Norway has for example entered a hydropower partnership with
Ethiopia, and has funded studies for two large dams on the Blue Nile.
Only last month, the Norwegian government canceled this cooperation due
to the Ethiopian government's insistence on uneconomic mega-dams.

. A small portion of Norway's clean energy aid supports the development
of decentralized renewable wind and solar projects.

While the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has failed to evaluate
its energy assistance, the government's Auditor General Office carried
out an in-depth assessment of the assistance and submitted the findings
to parliament on June 25.

The findings of the audit are highly critical. The Auditor General
states: "Norwegian assistance to clean energy has not led to a
noticeable increase in power generation and has contributed little to
improving living conditions for the poor in those countries that have
been prioritized for such support."

More specifically, the audit finds that Norwegian energy assistance is
"still primarily directed towards hydropower, although countries have
ample opportunities to utilize solar and wind energy resources." This
bias makes recipient countries "more vulnerable to failure in energy
supply" than a more balanced approach would have done. The support for
transmission lines has created energy access for over 100,000
households, although "primarily the wealthiest households" have
benefited from this. The various measures have not spurred private
investment in the recipient countries, and their economic viability is weak.

"A stunning 12.26 billion Norwegian kroners has had little effect on
electricity production, poverty alleviation and business creation in the
prioritized target countries," FIVAS, a Norwegian environmental
organization and long-time partner of International Rivers, commented on
the audit findings. "This confirms our view that too much Norwegian
support has been tied up in hydropower."

In his response to the audit, Norway's Foreign Minister agreed that the
rapid advancement of solar, wind and biomass power "will make it
possible to expand the breadth of investment in clean energy," and
accepted the recommendation "to strengthen efforts to improve energy
access in rural areas with small-scale renewable solutions." At the same
time, the Foreign Minister argued that among all technologies, Norway
was still best placed to extend aid for hydropower.

The strong and unambiguous findings of the independent audit offer the
government an opportunity to change course. A failure to do so in the
interest of the country's hydropower industry would dent the high
credibility of Norway's development assistance.

Norway is a leading voice in the global dams debate and is often
considered a model in development and energy finance. The new audit adds
to the growing evidence that large hydropower projects are not effective
at reducing poverty, and that better tools for achieving this goal
exist. The World Bank, the Green Climate Fund (which receives strong
support from Norway and will soon decide on its own energy priorities)
and other institutions should take note.

[An English translation of the audit report's main sections is available

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