Alternative and Sustainable Energy Sources: Hydro Power

The History of Hydro Power

Man has used the power generated by falling water for centuries. There is archaeological evidence of water power being used in ancient Egypt, Rome, India, China and the Middle East. Water wheels, powered by a running stream, were used to turn the equipment used to grind grain. The first time hydroelectricity was used to power a household was in England in 1878. Hydroelectricity was first successfully used to power industry in the United States in 1882, when it was used to power paper mills on the Fox River.

During the mid 20th century, large-scale hydro-electricity schemes were conceived and built in many countries so that today, approximately twenty percent of the world’s total energy is produced using the power of water.

How does Hydro-Electricity Work?

Early methods of using water to provide energy depended on a fast-running stream. Because of the unreliability of natural rivers and streams, an artificial method of providing the water needed to generate power had to be created. Water needed to be stored to create a modern hydro-electric system and this usually meant that a dam had to be built to hold vast amounts of water.

This water from the dam is passed through a series of tunnels which creates the force to turn the turbines which drive the generators to generate the electricity. Because it is pumped from the bottom of the dam, the gravitational pull is very strong and this creates enormous pressure which drives the turbines efficiently.

Hydro-electric power stations are generally built in mountainous areas where the topography lends itself to creating the dams. In countries where mountains form a large part of the natural landscape, such as New Zealand and Switzerland, hydro power accounts for more than fifty percent of all electricity generated.

Advantages of Hydro Power

Hydro-electric power stations have the capability to generate large quantities of power at a very low cost. If you compare gas and electricity prices from standard sources, you will see this is the case. It is also renewable, as the water is pumped back into the dam to be reused time and time again or is allowed to run downstream, continuing the normal flow of the river.

Once the dam has been built, hydro power is eco-friendly and the electricity generated is almost free after the system has been set up. It is a green source of power because the process of generating the power has no waste products and creates no pollution.

Hydro-electric power stations have the ability to adjust the amount of electricity being generated, making them unique in the world of alternative and sustainable power methods. It is a more reliable source of power than other forms of green power.

The dams built to supply a hydro power station can also be used for irrigation or flood control in some areas.

Disadvantages of Hydro Power

Inevitably, a lot of land is going to be affected as a large area will be flooded to create the dam. Land will be underneath the water in the dam. This can be a contentious issue as the land may be prime agricultural land, have cultural significance or contain habitats for native plants, birds and animals.

The quality of the water can be affected downstream of a dam built for hydro power and there is often a change to the amount of water available for agriculture and human use.

Hydro power is generally a large scale enterprise unless an individual landowner is going to use a running stream to generate power. This form of eco-friendly power generation requires a large investment of money and resources to get up to the production phase, after which it is a clean form of power generation.

So, what do you think about hydro power? Is it the way of the future? 


Alternative and Sustainable Energy Sources: Hydro Power — 19 Comments

  1. Hydro power is a great pption for sustainable energy. I think that it is one of many ways of the future. While the US shifts from oil and coal energy, it will take several alternative and sustainable types of energy combined….not just one.

  2. Neutral on large-scale hydropower. Damage to spawning fish habit, loss of available habitat and/or farmland, and eventual silting up of large dams is offset by the electricity generated without emissions or other toxic by-products. I’m much more in favor of micro-hydro as a power solution at the individual or small community level. Good article!

    • You are definitely right. Hydro power is clean in all ways. There is definitely eco impact that results. You mention micro hydro. I wonder if that still has an eco impact? It seems all alternative energy sources also have their cons just like gas and coal.

  3. I think we have to look at all the options for power generation. As a country we are growing and need a more sustainable source of power. Our dependence on oil has cost us a great deal in costs and polution.

  4. This is a interesting article, and those were some excellent points made by Andrew. I still would need to investigate the issue further to develop an opinion, but Andrew’s mentioning its utility at the small community level makes sense.

  5. I support hydro-power but in the UK the only substantial facility is in Scotland where investment post WW2 led to what is now the cheapest power source we have. We do need diversity and to move away from fossil fuel sources of all kinds as well as towards indigeneous sources to avoid being hostage to some pretty nasty regimes.

    Windmills on the other hand are not a good solution. They can only generate in moderate winds, have been known to fall over and can’t synchronise with the advertising intervals on TV!

    I don’t know why more isn’t done on marine currents – sort of under water windmills – which can be placed strategically because tides are not all synchronous geographically as well as some sort of wave power.

    Pumped storage is a good idea – the station at Dinorwic in North Wales was built to enable nuclear to be stored (but was not privatised with the nuclear stations). That facility can turn 1800MW stored to 1500MW generated in about 15 seconds I believe – some massive turn round equivalent to turning on a 3300MW station in that time.

    Meanwhile the oil lobby – like the banks – trundle on owning us all…:-(

  6. I’m not so sure hydropower is the way of the future. It seems like it’s a bit too damaging on the environment. I would think there’s less potential for harm with wind and solar and other forms of clean energy generation that might be better choices in the future.

  7. Hydro does have an impact on ecosystems so it is a balancing act. It can be done in a way that minimizes the impact on flora and fauna. In Arizona APS decommissioned the Childress hydro plant on the Fossil Springs Creek. It is a pretty amazing project so google it when you have a chance.

  8. We have a couple of hydro schemes in Australia, but often we tend to be short on water so we can’t rely on it too much. We do need to start developing more alternative energy sources though, most of our power still comes from coal fired plants which is definitely not a god thing. Solar is starting to get popular on private homes, sunshine is something we do have a lot of!

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