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Hydropower Vulnerability in a Changing Climate: Characterizing Future Risks in the Global South

posted on 09.09.2022, 14:26 authored by Ana CaceresAna Caceres

Global electricity demand is expected to increase over the following decades, with more than half a billion people worldwide still lacking access to modern electricity services. Additionally, the power sector is one of the largest contributors to increasing GHG atmospheric concentrations, and there is a pressing need to decarbonize the sector. Unfortunately, emerging economies in the Global South, where most of the electrification needs to happen, are some of the most vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change. Therefore, to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7 of universal electricity access, emerging economies will need to expand their electricity infrastructure while cutting emissions and adapting to climate change.

Hydropower may be a low-carbon option to increase supply and decarbonize electricity generation. Unfortunately, climate change can affect hydropower operations through changes in the timing and magnitude of precipitation, rising temperatures, and glacier mass. Evaluating climate impacts on hydropower generally requires detailed local input data and hydrological models, which may not be available in many places of the Global South. Nevertheless, there is a pressing need to understand these impacts for future planning decisions. Research that focuses on developing flexible data requirement tools and models able to use climate projections and remotely sensed datasets for data-scarce regions is needed. Furthermore, identifying climate impacts and their potential risks on hydropower plants is just the first step towards the future adaptation of the hydropower sector. Communicating assessment results to relevant decision-makers will be crucial, yet effective communication tools for climate adaptation are still lacking.

The objective of this dissertation was to characterize and understand the impacts of climate change on usable hydropower capacity in the Global South. First, I developed a hydrological model paired with a hydropower operations model to assess usable capacity at the power plant level in data-scarce regions of the world. Then, I used the model to analyze the changes in usable capacity in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru under a multi-model ensemble. Later, I used the same model across five African power pools. I expanded the initial assessment to incorporate changes in variability of hydropower resources in Africa; and generate interconnection scenarios based on the complementarities of these resources. The final piece of this dissertation consisted of creating an interactive analysis tool that includes all previous assessments and incorporated 56 more countries across five regions of the Global South.




Degree Type



Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Paulina Jaramillo H. Scott Matthews Costa Samaras

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