Hydropower has been a slumbering giant in the energy game. Since the 1960s, its use has actually gone down compared to other energy sources. This is beginning to change.
Hydropower As A Major Player In The Energy Game
Hydropower is the massive production of electricity through the conversion of kinetic energy in water into electricity. This is typically undertaken in the form of a dam on a river. Water is held back by the dam and then fed in a controlled manner through it. On its way, the water spins turbines that crank generators and produce electricity. Famous projects include Hoover Dam in the United States, Nasser Dam in Egypt and the new Three Gorges Dam in China.
The primary question with hydropower is why we do not use it more. In some countries, such as Norway, it is the primary source of energy production. It is popular because it is a clean energy platform that produces no emissions, pollution, heat or fuel consumption. As long as the river runs, the hydropower plant should function. In places like Africa, this has not always been a sure thing.
Compared to other energy platforms, hydropower is very efficient. Energy conversion rates are in the 80 to 90 percent range. The plants also have a long life as you can see with any dam, and maintenance costs are relatively low. Cost of energy production, thus, is lower or on par with other energy platforms including oil.
While hydropower seems like a slam dunk option as an energy platform, there are a few definite negatives. The initial cost of building a hydropower dam can be very large. Hundreds of millions of dollars can be required. Larger projects such as the Three Gorges dam run into the billions. These figures are staggering for smaller countries and even give pause to most first world ones. With the rising costs of fossil fuels, however, this is becoming less of an issue each and every day.
The other area that causes concern with hydropower dams is the environmental and human impact. Damming a river is no easy task and the impact is massive. To effectively work, a hydropower dam will reduce the flow of water to such an extent that tens if not hundreds of miles of land behind it will be submerged. In the case of the Three Gorges Dam, this led to the removal of entire cities, monasteries and massive changes to the landscape. There is no disputing this negative issue, but localized changes seem minor compared to the global impact of fossil fuel use.
There is not much glamour to hydropower, but it does represent one of the cleanest and efficient energy platforms available to us.