Tag: hydropower

Neolithic Plumbing: The Landscape is a Machine

Water is, among its many attributes, fluid. Left to its own devices it runs, spills, flows, leaks, crashes, and splashes. Holding H2O still is nearly impossible above 0°C. An ambitious enough goal in water management is containment and, if lucky, control. Mastery over the whims of water is of paramount concern today across a number of socio-environmental spheres—coasts flood, deserts desiccate, Flint contaminates, and California incinerates. The various infrastructural and political hydrology problems posed by Anthropocene conditions have inspired a number of technocratic and neoliberal solutions (e.g., the $118 billion storm surge gates in New York or monetization of dehydration in Africa). A brief look at archaic relationships between water and society, however, suggests conceptual alternatives to such high-energy and high-cost survival designs. Two such examples are examined below: the gravitational plumbing at the Neolithic* site of Smerquoy in the Orkney Islands and the Persian yakhchāl, a pre-Alexandrian ‘icebox’. These (read more...)

Description/Classification/Threshold: Experiments with Renewable Energy Taxonomy

This is not renewable energy:   Nor is this some clever, Magritte-esque meta-commentary on how it is impossible represent or think about renewable energy separate from the technologies that harness it. No, it is simply an issue of taxonomy: hydropower is only counted as “renewable” some of the time. This is confusing, because if the term “renewable” has any meaning, after all, it is first and foremost a description of a process, one that specifically refers to the fact that the natural resource from which said energy is produced either does not significantly deplete upon use to begin with, or can be easily replenished within a human time scale. Hydropower, harnessed through the most abundant substance on our “blue planet”, seems to easily fit the description, which makes the exception worth exploring. (read more...)

Is Uncertainty a Useful Concept? Tracking Environmental Damage in the Lao Hydropower Industry

The collapse last week of a major hydropower dam in southern Laos, the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy, as a tropical storm dumped an unknown, but massive, volume of water into its reservoir, seems to have prompted at least a little soul-searching for a country that considers itself ‘the Battery of Southeast Asia.’ It’s not very often that large dams collapse, but it’s the second time it’s happened this year in Laos (the prior one was much smaller), and some readers may have been affected by the near-collapse of the Oroville Dam—the tallest dam in the United States—in central California in 2017, prompting the evacuation of 180,000 people. Laos has far lower population density—about 10,000 people have been affected by the still under-construction dam—and as of the time of writing there are perhaps a dozen dead and several hundred missing. But a dam doesn’t have to collapse for it to be a disaster. Even when dams work well, in the best case scenarios they produce a tremendous degree of uncertainty for the people they affect about what might happen and what comes next.  (read more...)