Evolving perspectives on hydropower: balancing societal benefits and environmental impacts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


This chapter summarizes the development of hydropower from the early Middle Ages in Europe, through to the Mega-Projects of the 20th and 21st Century. An overview of the environmental implications of these developments is then provided, using examples from Europe, N & S America and SE Asia, before looking at the societal contest for current—and future—hydropower developments in the developed and developing world. At present there is a relatively polarized debate in which some see hydropower as essential in promoting green energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels; while others highlight the environmental implications of large hydropower plants, and problems relating to river fragmentation and loss of free-flowing river reaches. Looking forward, it is clear that rigorous cost-benefit analyses are needed to determine whether individual projects can provide sufficient benefit to society without damaging the environment. Improvements in environmental governance are also required to ensure that the benefits of development are shared equitably, and the impacts on local communities are fully accounted for.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

This article was reviewed for the Encyclopedia of Inland Waters, Second Edition by Section Editors Ken Irvine, Debbie Chapman and Stuart Warner.


  • Dams
  • Environmental governance
  • Green energy
  • Hydropower


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