Research Topic

Reconciling Small Hydropower and Ecosystem Services in River Basins

About this Research Topic

Small hydropower is booming worldwide, fostered by the international agenda and national strategies on renewable energy, its importance for rural electrification and its contribution towards meeting renewable energy targets. Small hydropower plants are often built in headwater and pristine river basins which are hotspots of biodiversity, and in cascade installations with disturbances replicated along river courses. Limited awareness of the cumulative effects of multiple hydropower plants and their possible impacts on riverine ecosystems has resulted in underdeveloped environmental regulation and weaker licensing regime for these projects compared to large hydropower. Increased mechanistic understanding in these fields and the availability of tools to integrate this knowledge into spatial planning and design processes may promote sustainable trade-offs between the preservation of ecosystem functions and energy production by means of small hydropower.

This Research Topic aims to highlight emerging research on the effects of small hydropower plants at the scale of river basins and stream networks, and novel approaches for their mitigation. Studies on modifications of hydrological dynamics and geomorphological processes triggered by small hydropower exploitation, alterations of habitat dynamics, ecosystem services and evolutionary processes sustaining biodiversity, methods to assess cumulative impacts, novel tools for basin scale hydropower planning and approaches to integrate ecological functions into design practices are invited.
The goal of this collection is to merge perspectives from diverse communities dealing with these themes, such as scientists from the disciplines of hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and evolution, engineers from the fields of energy development and plant design, water managers and policy experts, and create a platform for debate. In line with the 2020 Horizon Scan of Emerging Global Biological Conservation Issues, which selected this topic as one of the fifteen most important issues for environmental conservation, we aim at focusing attention and stimulating debate about these subjects, potentially leading to policy developments or business innovations.

We welcome studies which address the following topics:
• Characterization of cumulative effects of small hydropower plants at the catchment and river network scales, and their interactions with other stressors;
• Quantification of the effects of small hydropower on river ecosystem processes and functions, including dispersal and migration of organisms, genetic diversity and evolutionary impacts;
• Tools for basin-scale planning of small hydropower installations which consider cumulative and long term effects for positioning, design and approval;
• Approaches to integrate ecosystem functions in addition to economic and technical criteria into design tools, and methods to identify trade-offs among energy production, economic profitability and environmental conservation;
• Case studies of best practice design and implementation of innovative mitigation measures, with monitoring and quantification of their outcomes;
• Development and application of new tools, such as remote sensing techniques, to collect environmental data for small hydropower planning and monitoring;
• Renewable energy policies and environmental regulations which favor long term planning, basin scale assessment of small hydropower and a reconciliation between energy, economic and ecological aims.

Cover Image by Gianluca Lazzaro


Keywords: small hydropower, river networks, ecosystems, tradeoffs, best practices


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Small hydropower is booming worldwide, fostered by the international agenda and national strategies on renewable energy, its importance for rural electrification and its contribution towards meeting renewable energy targets. Small hydropower plants are often built in headwater and pristine river basins which are hotspots of biodiversity, and in cascade installations with disturbances replicated along river courses. Limited awareness of the cumulative effects of multiple hydropower plants and their possible impacts on riverine ecosystems has resulted in underdeveloped environmental regulation and weaker licensing regime for these projects compared to large hydropower. Increased mechanistic understanding in these fields and the availability of tools to integrate this knowledge into spatial planning and design processes may promote sustainable trade-offs between the preservation of ecosystem functions and energy production by means of small hydropower.

This Research Topic aims to highlight emerging research on the effects of small hydropower plants at the scale of river basins and stream networks, and novel approaches for their mitigation. Studies on modifications of hydrological dynamics and geomorphological processes triggered by small hydropower exploitation, alterations of habitat dynamics, ecosystem services and evolutionary processes sustaining biodiversity, methods to assess cumulative impacts, novel tools for basin scale hydropower planning and approaches to integrate ecological functions into design practices are invited.
The goal of this collection is to merge perspectives from diverse communities dealing with these themes, such as scientists from the disciplines of hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and evolution, engineers from the fields of energy development and plant design, water managers and policy experts, and create a platform for debate. In line with the 2020 Horizon Scan of Emerging Global Biological Conservation Issues, which selected this topic as one of the fifteen most important issues for environmental conservation, we aim at focusing attention and stimulating debate about these subjects, potentially leading to policy developments or business innovations.

We welcome studies which address the following topics:
• Characterization of cumulative effects of small hydropower plants at the catchment and river network scales, and their interactions with other stressors;
• Quantification of the effects of small hydropower on river ecosystem processes and functions, including dispersal and migration of organisms, genetic diversity and evolutionary impacts;
• Tools for basin-scale planning of small hydropower installations which consider cumulative and long term effects for positioning, design and approval;
• Approaches to integrate ecosystem functions in addition to economic and technical criteria into design tools, and methods to identify trade-offs among energy production, economic profitability and environmental conservation;
• Case studies of best practice design and implementation of innovative mitigation measures, with monitoring and quantification of their outcomes;
• Development and application of new tools, such as remote sensing techniques, to collect environmental data for small hydropower planning and monitoring;
• Renewable energy policies and environmental regulations which favor long term planning, basin scale assessment of small hydropower and a reconciliation between energy, economic and ecological aims.

Cover Image by Gianluca Lazzaro


Keywords: small hydropower, river networks, ecosystems, tradeoffs, best practices


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

25 July 2020 Abstract
29 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

25 July 2020 Abstract
29 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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