Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 12:00pm
Rafael M. Almeida
Postdoctoral Researcher, Cornell University
Energy in transition:
Navigating greenhouse gas emissions and socioenvironmental
tradeoffs from hydropower
Hydropower is the world’s dominant source of renewable electricity and is expected to continue growing in the coming decades, especially in developing countries. Though often promoted as a climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, hydropower is not always low-carbon. Poorly sited and designed hydropower projects can emit as much GHGs per unit energy as conventional fossil-fueled power plants.
In this talk, I will first discuss the fundamental science of GHG emissions from built aquatic ecosystems, and the uncertainties that confound estimations of hydropower’s GHG footprint. Focusing on Earth’s largest river basin—the Amazon—I will then show how strategic dam planning can reduce the GHG burden of future hydropower portfolios. Political and economic decisions about energy production integrate dimensions beyond GHG emissions, so I will also explore the importance of climate change and socioenvironmental tradeoffs for informing sustainable hydropower development. Finally, I will highlight how innovations such as deploying floating solar panels atop reservoirs might reduce the environmental footprint of hydropower while increasing energy security.
Rafael Almeida is a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. He was previously a Cornell Atkinson Center Postdoctoral Fellow in Sustainability, received his PhD in Ecology (2017) from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (Brazil), and was a visiting graduate student at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Rafael’s work as a sustainability scientist is motivated by the challenge of providing energy and food to a growing human population in a fast-changing world. Having a background in aquatic sciences, Rafael is especially interested in socioenvironmental dimensions of hydropower and aquaculture—two sectors that are booming worldwide. His research approach focuses on achieving synthetic perspectives through collaborative networks that combine a variety of environmental science disciplines, including biogeochemistry, hydrology, ecosystem ecology, computational sustainability and natural resource economics. In recognition of his innovative work, Rafael was awarded the Society for Freshwater Science’s 2021 Hynes Award for New Investigators.
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