Germany turns it back on small-scale hydropower

Research by the German environment agency has concluded that small-scale hydropower plants have a disproportionately higher impact on the environment than large plants.

When it comes to hydroelectric power generation, the German environment agency has concluded that smaller plants, typically those with less than 1 megawatt capacity, have a far greater negative environmental impact than larger projects. The report concludes that “the smaller the plant and closer to nature the river, the more unfavourable the (environmental and economic) cost-benefit ratio”.

Based on this new research, the agency is recommending that no new plants of less than 1 megawatt capacity should be constructed, and any decommissioned units of this size should not be reopened. The focus is now on existing large hydropower units, particularly those which have dams that have further development potential. To provide further support, the agency is also recommending that larger hydropower plants should no longer be excluded from subsidy support under Germany’s renewable energy programme. At present only plants under 5 megawatts capacity are eligible.

Although Germany’s windpower sector has been growing dramatically, hydropower is still the main renewable energy source. It currently provides 4% of overall national energy generation.

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