Hydroelectric Power – Unlimited Green Energy for Everyone

We are all quite familiar with solar energy or wind energy, but are we as familiar with hydroelectric power? Perhaps not as well-known as solar or wind power, hydroelectric power is definitely one of the most inventive and important renewable energy sources we have. Since we are constantly looking for more ways to keep our planet safe and stop the dreaded effects of global warming and climate change, it comes as no surprise that we should focus our attention on hydroelectric power. Because we want to familiarize you with the concept, we have devised a guide that covers everything you should know about hydroelectric power. We are going to be looking at the following things:

  • What hydroelectric power is.
  • How hydroelectric power works.
  • Advantages of hydroelectric power.
  • Possible drawbacks associated with hydroelectric power.

view from above of a hydroelectric dam

What Is Hydroelectric Power?

Hydroelectric power is power that we harness from the force of falling or running water. How do we do that? By building hydroelectric power plants that have dams. These dams store water and then release it to create electricity. However, the process of turning water’s kinetic energy into electrical energy is more complicated than it sounds. That is why, we thought we would give you an outlook on how a hydroelectric power plant works.

How Does Hydroelectric Power Work?

As we’ve already mentioned, us humans cannot harness hydroelectric power unless we build a hydroelectric power plant. Now, usually, we have to build the power plant close to a large source of water, so that we can take advantage of its power. A hydroelectric power plant works in a rather fascinating way. It has 4 components that take care of the process of turning water energy into electricity. These components are:

  • A hydroelectric dam. The hydroelectric dam is perhaps the most important part of a power plant, because it is here where we store the water that we will later use for electricity. This dam is made up of a reservoir, a gate, and a penstock. Next, we will explain how the entire process works. First, we store water in the reservoir to use at our convenience. Then, we release said water when we want to create electricity. That is when the gate opens up and the water goes through the penstock to the turbine.
  • A turbine. When we release the water on top of the turbine, this activates the turbine blades. They start moving and they turn the kinetic energy coming from the falling water into mechanical energy.
  • A generator. Next comes the generator, which is connected to the turbine. As a result, when the turbine blades start spinning, so will the generator. This is where the magic actually happens, because mechanical energy turns into electricity.
  • Transmission lines. These lines take care of the final step in the process, which is transmitting electricity to the areas that need it. These can be entire cities and areas, or just some homes or offices, depending on the size of the power plant.
components of a hydroelectric power plant

Image Source: ClimateTechWiki

What Are the Advantages of Hydroelectric Power?

Now that we’ve explained how hydroelectric power works, let’s focus on all of its advantages, to get an idea of why this is an important renewable energy source.

It Doesn’t Pollute the Environment

Undoubtedly the most important advantage of hydroelectric power is the fact that it helps us preserve the environment. There’s no denying that we are facing issues such as climate change and global warming. However, not many people know exactly what causes these problems.

Well, one of the main causes of global warming and climate change are greenhouse gases. We humans usually release these gases, whenever we engage in activities such as driving, mining, or using electronic devices. Now, if we can’t stop these activities, there is one that we could and should stop. That is burning fossil fuels and coal for electricity purposes.

This is precisely where hydroelectric power comes in.  When we harness power coming from falling water, we do not release greenhouse gases or pollute the land, air, or water sources. Which is great news for a future in which we would ideally only use renewable energy sources.

It Is Renewable

Speaking of renewable, another great advantage of hydroelectric power is the fact that we can use it continuously, and water sources will still be there for a long time. What, in fact, do we mean by a renewable energy source? Well, in order for an energy source to be renewable, it has to thick three main characteristics. First of all, it has to use resources we can find in nature. Second of all, nature should also be capable of restoring them to their original format. Thirdly, these resources should never run the risk of disappearing.

Now, since hydroelectric energy uses power coming from falling water, it is safe to say that it is indeed renewable. We can find water in nature, we can also be sure that nature will restore it because of the water cycle, and we can safely assume that at least for a very long time, we won’t be running out of water.

It Is Not Expensive

Admittedly, building a hydroelectric power plant does require an amount of money that might worry some people. However, we are not talking here about the cost of building the power plant, but about the cost of actually creating electricity. Because if we think about it, the initial cost is more than covered once we start producing electricity.

That is because hydroelectric power plants can last for decades and they need little maintenance. Moreover, the actual process of kinetic energy getting turned into mechanical energy, and finally into electricity, does not cost any extra money. No to mention the fact that we also don’t have to pay for fuel. The fuel we use is water, and we’ve already established that we can find water in nature.

It Is Safe

The next point we would like to make is related to how safe it is for us humans and the ecosystem to build hydroelectric power plants. The answer is, safer than traditional power plants that use fossil fuel and coal. It is no secret that accidents can happen in every type of power plant, even in hydroelectric ones.

However, if an accident were to happen here, such as the dam breaking, we would have to deal with floods. They shouldn’t represent such a dire concern, mostly because the areas around hydroelectric power plants are usually free of human population, precisely because of this reason. At the opposite pole, if an accident happens in a traditional power plant, the use of fossil fuels might constitute a really big issue for us.

It Is Reliable

Another great thing about hydroelectric power is that we can rely on it in times when traditional energy sources fail to provide us with electricity. For instance, let’s say there’s a power shortage and an entire city is left in the dark. Since we can store water in the dam’s reservoir, that means that we can use it whenever we want.

city skyline during blackout

It Can Be Used for Recreational Purposes

Finally, the last advantage of hydroelectric power is that fact that apart from being useful and practical, it can also be a source of entertainment. Maybe you are already familiar with the fact that large dams have become touristic attractions. We can understand why. After all, the view is pretty spectacular. However, this is not the only purpose a hydroelectric power plant serves. The lake that forms behind the dam is a great place for people to try water sports, go swimming, or fishing.

Are There Any Drawbacks Associated with Hydroelectric Power?

As with any major renewable energy source, yes, hydroelectric energy has its drawbacks. Because we want to show you both sides of the coin, we thought we would also explore some of them in what follows.

It Can Damage the Ecosystem

Perhaps the most important disadvantage we should keep in mind when it comes to hydroelectric power is the fact that building the power plant disrupts the ecosystem of that particular area. Precisely because a power plant requires a lot of free space for the dam, the power lines, the roads, and so on, some species of fish will lose their natural habitat and have to relocate, which might constitute a challenge for them.

It Disrupts the Environment

For the same reason that we’ve already mentioned, namely the need for space, building a hydroelectric power plant can interfere with the environment as well. For instance, certain surrounding areas might get flooded because the water levels change according to what humans make of them.

It Relocates the Population

We’ve already talked briefly about how people are asked to relocate when a large power plant is about to be built in their area. Even though this is for their safety as well, there is no denying that it can be extremely difficult and inconvenient for people to have to move their home because of this. Sometimes, the number of inhabitants that have to relocate is quite high. This can be an important disadvantage of hydroelectric power to consider.

It Cannot Be Harnessed Everywhere

Since hydroelectric power harnesses energy coming from falling water, then it is pretty obvious that we should have a water source close by. Which means that the number of places where we could build a hydroelectric power plant are definitely limited. As a result, our energy production is also limited.

It Is an Expensive Investment

We are not trying to contradict ourselves, we just want to show why many people would consider this a disadvantage. Since we are used to getting instant results and instant gratification, it can be a challenge to ask someone to invest a large sum of money in something that will eventually pay off sometime in the next decades. Not to mention that the benefits it brings to our environment are also not instantly visible. This might constitute another problem. The initial investment is indeed something to consider before we build a hydroelectric power plant. However, is the investment worth it? We believe it is.

It Can Cause Floods

There are two main reasons why an area next to a hydroelectric power plant could get flooded. One possibility would be for the dam to break, which would indeed be a challenge. Even if no human populations would get hurt, the environment and the ecosystem of the surrounding area would suffer because of a flood. The second possibility is for the water that we release from the dam to have such an incredible force that it floods low lying places.

house affected by flood

It Can Be Affected by Droughts

During hot summer days, some regions might experience droughts. If those regions are close to a hydroelectric power plant, our production of electricity will also decrease. That is because we are, of course, depended on water supplies. Even if droughts are not usually a permanent thing, they can temporarily affect the amount of electricity we produce.

Summing Everything Up

Harnessing hydroelectric power is one of the inventions that shows people’s willingness to look for renewable and clean energy sources that will not damage our planet. Why did we choose to call it unlimited green energy? Well, we believe we have managed to show that in today’s guide. We call it unlimited because it comes from nature and nature is also the one to replenish it. Which means that we don’t run the risk of getting to a point where we can’t harness energy coming from falling water anymore.

Moreover, we call it green because, as we’ve seen, it does not release toxic gases into our environment. This is something out planet is in dire need of: cleaner air. Not only will the air be cleaner if we continue to use hydroelectric power, but the water sources and land will also benefit. Overall, there’s no denying the amazing potential of hydroelectric power to provide us with electricity, while taking care of the environment as well.

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