The monthly dynamics of blue water footprints and electricity generation of four types of hydropower plants in Ecuador

Santiago Vaca Jiménez*, P.W. Gerbens-Leenes, Sanderine Nonhebel

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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    Water evaporates from reservoirs of hydropower plants (HPPs), often in significant volumes. Reservoir evaporation is a dynamic phenomenon depending on climate, varying size of open water surfaces (OWS), and electricity production. Due to a lack of data and methods to estimate the OWS's size variation, previous studies assessed HPPs water footprints (WFs) considering static OWSs acknowledging the uncertainty of this omission. This study estimates WFs of HPPs, considering dynamic OWSs for four plant types in Ecuador, Flooded lakes, and Flooded rivers, with dam heights lower or higher than their Gross Static Head (GSH). It quantifies OWSs size variation using a Digital Elevation Model and GSH data, assessing OWS evaporation, effects on electricity production and WFs. There are large differences among the evaporation of HPPs when OWS size variations are considered. HPP operation, geographical features, and climate determine temporal differences. Flooded lake HPPs have relatively large WFs. Flooded River HPPs, with dam heights below their GSH, have the smallest WFs, but water storage capacity is limited. Static area approaches underestimated annual WFs by 10% (Flooded Lake HPPs) to 80% (Flooded River HPPs). Earlier studies showed effects of HPPs on water from a water management perspective, suggesting that less water-intensive HPP technologies are favorable, or that other water-efficient electricity-generating technologies, like solar or wind, should replace HPPs. This study also included the electricity perspective, indicating that energy management and water storage are important factors for WFs. The most water-effective technology cannot fulfill current electricity production due to a lack of storage options. The system dynamics analysis indicates that aiming for small WFs is not always the best option from an energy and water perspective.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number136579
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 15-Apr-2020


    • Water-energy nexus
    • Water footprint
    • Electricity generation
    • Reservoirs
    • Hydropower
    • Hydropower dynamics

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