- 1 What is Hydroelectric Power?
- 2 How hydroelectric power works
- 3 Advantages of hydroelectric power
- 4 Disadvantages of hydroelectric power
- 5 10+ facts to know about hydroelectric power
- 6 Conclusion
What is Hydroelectric Power?
Power is the capacity to do work as we learnt in our basic physics lessons. Now, hydroelectric power and hydropower can be used interchangeable to mean the source of power generated from water sources. It is a renewable source of energy.
Although renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind are fast catching up with this older source of power – hydroelectric power, it still contributes to a large extent to the global electricity generation. For this reason, the 20th century, called the hydroelectric power the “white coal” because of its clean power and abundance in nature.
To know about hydroelectric power is to understand that it was the first and simplest electricity generation technology, though it took thousands of years for humans to come up with that idea. Hydroelectric power is the form of power generated using the potential and kinetic energy from flowing water and converting it into electricity.
“Kinetic energy” means the water must be flowing from a higher elevation to a lower elevation. The “potential energy” comes to play when the water is stored in a dam before flowing down the height.
The initial production utilized timber, granite block and low dam of rock construction to gather water from surface runoff and rainfall into a reservoir. The water was then channeled to a pipe and then to a water wheel (turbine).
The channeled water hits a turbine blade, spinning it and the connected shaft. The shaft was connected to a standby generator (a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy) which produced electricity when rotated.
The technology has since grown by leaps and bounds, and the water is mostly collected from falling and flowing rivers. A hydropower plant is usually nearby the dam. It uses that utilizes turbines and generators to convert this very motion into electricity.
How hydroelectric power works
We can’t get to know about hydroelectric power without discussing how it works in modern hydro power plants. Hydroelectric power is classified as a renewable energy resource.
Renewable energy sources are replenished after its use. Since water vaporizes into clouds and recycles back to the surface of the earth as precipitation, that is why this source of power generation is tagged renewable.
Hydroelectric power simply means generation of power from falling or streaming water. The constant running flow of water is then used to move the turbines.
A typical modern hydroelectric plant is a system with three major parts:
- a power plant where the electricity is produced,
- a dam that can be opened or closed to control water flow,
- and a reservoir where water is stored.
The water behind the dam flows through an intake channel and pushes against blades in a turbine, causing them to rotate. The turbine spins a generator to produce electricity.
The size of electricity that can be generated depends on how far the water drops and how much water moves through the system. The electricity can be transported through long-distance electric lines to homes, factories, and businesses. Other types of hydropower plants make use of the flow through a waterway without a dam.
Advantages of hydroelectric power
1. Green and clean energy resources
Hydroelectricity is a green and clean alternative source of energy source that quickly replaced fossil fuels. Creating power with hydroelectric energy is not contaminating itself. The energy produced by hydroelectric plants do not produce any toxic or greenhouse gases that pollutes the atmosphere.
2. Renewable energy source
Hydroelectric power is a renewable source of power. It is considered as renewable because it uses the earth’s water to produce electricity. The sun shines and the water evaporates from the earth’s surface, forms clouds and then falls back on to the earth in the form of rain and snow.
Rivers and lakes that are typically leveraged to generate hydroelectric power will never disappear. It will always be replenished back into the ocean.
3. Cost competitive energy source
Hydroelectric power is a cheap source of energy even though the upfront construction cost can be expensive.The main driving force, water is so abundant and infinite source which is not affected by price volatility.
Fossil fuel based energy sources like coal, oil and natural gas are deeply affected by market volatility, which drives up or considerably lower their prices They are cheap to maintain and can last up to 100 years depending on the type.
4. Recreational opportunities
The lake behind hydroelectric dams can be a source of recreational activities like fishing, boating and swimming. The lake can also be uses for agricultural purpose like irrigation of farmlands with minimal water access. Large dams can also attract tourist to its location and become a source of earning money for the economy.
5. Storage of water
Hydroelectric power dams can store large amounts of water. The water stored can be used for irrigation when rainfall disappears and for consumption when there are shortage. The ability to store water is very useful since it provides us with the advantageous since it shields water tables from exhaustion and minimizes our susceptibility to droughts and floods.
6. Fundamental vehicle for sustainable development
Sustainable development is only obtainable when the source of energy supplied in the electric grid system is clean enough to support eco-friendly lifestyle. Using hydroelectric power is considered dependable as there are no issues so far as electric power generation is concerned. It can help drive the economy of any sustainable-conscious country in the right direction.
Disadvantages of hydroelectric power
1. Causes damage to the environment
Building a dam will result in the interruptions to the natural flow of water, which will consequently affect the environment. It also affects the movement of fishes and other aquatic life. This alteration can endanger a particular specie and destroy their natural habitat forever.
2. It can be expensive to build
All power plants undoubtedly are expensive to build, regardless of the type of building. Hydroelectric plants are no exception to this even though the process of power generation follows simple process. The high cost can be as a result of topography, laying foundations under water and the materials used to build it.
3. May Cause droughts
Local droughts can occur in areas surrounding a hydroelectric power plant. This is as a result of the large amounts of water channeled to the dam. This can be greatly influenced by a dry spell, causing people not to acquire the power they need.
4. Causes flooding in lower regions
People living down dam are at risk of a possible flooding which may occur as a result of increasing water currents overflow in the dam. The local communities may be forced to relocate to a different location which is not an easy decision to make.
5. Shortage of water supply
Huge dams are built across rivers in countries rich with potential hydroelectric power source. This can cause the interruption of the natural flow of water from one direction to another. When one location does not require too much water supply, it will be redirected to another place so that those looking to build dams in the area can get the much needed water.
10+ facts to know about hydroelectric power
- Hydroelectric power was used by farmers as far back as ancient Greece for mechanical tasks like grinding grain. Hydropower is also a renewable energy source and produces no air pollution or toxic byproducts.
- To help fishes move freely without getting killed by the turbine, there are devices attached at dams and between sections of rivers where fishes can migrate to and move freely. Fish ladders and fish elevators are just some of the techniques used to help fish migrate.
- Niagara Falls was where the first hydropower plant was build in USA. It was built in 1881 when Charles Brush connected a generator to turbines powered by the falls and used the electricity to power night-time lighting for visiting tourists.
- Hydroelectricity provides about 10% percent of the electricity generated in the United States and about half of the electricity from all renewable sources.
- Some hydroelectric power facilities can quickly go from zero power to maximum output, making them ideal for emergency demand for electricity.
- Another type of hydropower called pumped storage works like a battery, storing the electricity generated by other power sources like solar, wind, and nuclear for later use. It stores energy by pumping water uphill to a reservoir at higher elevation from a second reservoir at a lower elevation. When the power is needed, the water is released and turns a turbine, generating electricity.
- Hydroelectric power is a cheap source of electricity.
- The United States is the second largest producer of hydropower in the world. Canada is number one.
- Over 20% of world electricity is generated by hydropower.
- Hydroelectric power is a clean energy source that does not cause pollution to the environment.
- Small hydropower plant is becoming a norm for homes that live near water bodies. They can be used to run the electrical needs of the home.
- Hydroelectric power has been in existence since 1700.
- Hydroelectric power is extremely efficient up to 90% efficiency.
- Norway produces 99% of its electricity from hydroelectric power.
Hydroelectric power provides us with a cheap, renewable and clean energy resources that has replaced the use of fossil fuel to power our homes. However, Building dams in certain locations with potential for hydroelectric power can pose a lot of challenges.
Just like we have learnt so much about solar energy, wind energy and thermal energy, its also important to know about hydroelectric power, learn about its importance and disadvantages.
Although hydroelectric power plants can be good alternative sources of energy for everybody, Its doesn’t make it all rosy as there are are issues that comes with its building.
It is worthy of note to also comply with all safety requirements and should not compromise the environment and the people living around the power plant or dams.
If there are other benefits that can be derived from the use of hydroelectric power, feel free to write in the comment section below.