Hydroelectric Energy: the Leading Source for Green Energy
In 1882, hydroelectricity harnessed from the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin generated enough power to light two paper mills proving that Hydroelectricity is a viable and very reliable source of energy. This Eco-friendly energy relies on the kinetic energy of flowing water to turn turbines. The mechanical energy of the turbines is then used to drive a generator and electricity is produced without having to rely on the burning of fossil fuels. Hydroelectricity offers numerous pros that can benefit a person individually as well as offer larger scale advantages to benefit the global community. Today, around 20% of the world’s electricity is being provided by hydroelectric power stations.
Advantages of hydroelectricity
- Environmental benefits hydropower
• No pollution. Does not burn fossil fuels or produce toxic waste hence there are no harmful gases (greenhouse gases) released into the atmosphere.
• Renewable and sustainable. Uses the kinetic energy of water and not water itself so it does not deplete any of our earth’s resources.
• Does not contribute to global warming, acid rain etc.
• Provides a habitat for aquatic and terrestrial life.
• Diversion of water for use in irrigation.
- Hydroelectricity offers valuable Financial advantages
• Water, specifically water flow, will always be free. Hence, the cost for running the power plant is virtually negligible.
• Cheap electricity. Low operation and maintenance cost equals economically priced end product.
• It does not rely on fossil fuels so the cost of electricity is not affected by the fluctuations of oil prices based on the world market’s supply and demand.
• Hydroelectric plants are also very easy to maintain. For example, the Hoover Dam in the Colorado River has so far only had a single renovation in almost 90 years of operation. With maintenance and operation costs almost close to nothing, a hydroelectric power plant will be more than able to pay for its construction costs in just around 10 years after initial operation.
- Hydroelectric power: its vast economic impacts
• As fossil fuels are imported (unless you live in an oil producing country like Saudi Arabia), a community that does not rely on fuel for power becomes self-sufficient.
• Profit generated as well as tax revenues from hydroelectric power plants benefits the local community.
• Although a hydroelectric power plant do not require as many employees to sustain operation (a factor that helps keep energy costs cheap), it does generate employment in the local community.
• Flood Control. Dams can contain floodwater and can either store the water for future benefit or control its release so as prevent destruction of property or loss of life.
• Dams expand areas for recreational opportunities; this opens up parks and campgrounds in the area that can not only promote tourism but also boost employment for locals.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) takes responsibility in ensuring the safety of non-federal dams by conducting routine inspections for compliance. The National Dam Safety Program, an agency comprised of stakeholders, together with other federal agencies and a partnership of states, also helps to ensure that Dams in hydroelectric plants are safe for recreation by training the staff and inspectors, financing dam safety programs and safety research.
- Reliability of hydroelectricity
• As long as there is adequate water flow (kinetic energy) to move the turbines, a hydroelectric power plant will always produce energy.
• Most hydroelectric power plants have dams that can control and store water to ensure continuous water supply and flow even during seasons of low-rainfall.
• Hydropower accounts for more than 90% of energy generated from renewable sources including those from solar, geothermal, wind and biomass.
- Hydroelectric power is available worldwide
Hydroelectric plants can be built anywhere where there is a consistent supply of flowing water, such as non-seasonal streams or rivers. The power plant size can vary from small to large depending upon the size of the body of water operating it.
The above-mentioned are factors that make hydroelectricity a viable source of power. But hydroelectric power is not perfect and like everything else, it offers some disadvantages.
Disadvantages of hydroelectric power
As good as it is for the environment, building power plants also has its cons to nature.
- Affects natural habitat and clears vast land areas.
• Power plants usual require dams to store water. This necessitates the clearing and flooding of areas that may cause detrimental effects to local flora and fauna.
• Run-of-the-River hydroelectricity may or may not have pondage or water storage behind its weir (A weir is an overflow barrier that is used to change the normal flow of a river or stream). Being a man-made structure it is “unnatural” to the river or stream hence it can disrupt fish and river life mobility because it changes the natural course of the flow. However, this can be reduced by building a fish ladder.
Building hydroelectric plants have a high initial cost.
- Hydroelectric power: Social effects
• Dams affect areas located downstream as water supply may be scheduled or limited. Hydropower needs to build up pressure in order to achieve maximum results in turning the turbines, so water release are scheduled and controlled to serve this purpose.
• Inundation of wildlife habitat and native land may cause displacement of local communities.
Those being said, the disadvantages of hydroelectricity are outweighed by its benefits. Areas with a good source of hydroelectricity should seriously consider this eco-friendly energy source to not only enjoy its benefit but most importantly, to serve a greater purpose which is to preserve the environment.
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