Hydropower Pros and Cons – Does the Good Outweigh the Bad?

In the search for renewable energy sources, people have discovered they can harness the power of running or falling water in order to create electricity. This is precisely what hydropower is. Since rain will always keep falling, forming river streams, we can always build dams to transform its power into a renewable source of energy. Why renewable? Because we can use it constantly and not worry that we are wasting water and that it will eventually end.

Typically, we build hydroelectric power plants near large sources of water. Then, we can have turbines that start moving once the force of the water pushes on them, which will cause a generator to spin. That generator will transform all this energy into electricity. The other option is to build a dam that allows water to accumulate in a reservoir. Whenever we require electricity, we can just release that water.

hydroelectric dam

Even though there are many pros associated with the use of hydropower to create clean energy, there are also plenty of cons that might determine people to think twice before investing in this energy source. Today, we are going to explore the most relevant hydropower pros and cons and see if the positive aspects make up for the negative ones. Let’s begin!

Hydropower Pros and Cons

Hydropower Pros

1. Renewable

The first and most obvious hydropower pro is the fact that this type of energy is renewable. As we’ve already mentioned above, we don’t have to worry about running out of water. Since the earth naturally provides us with water through the water cycle, we don’t use up any limited resources when we harness hydropower. Moreover, if water will always be here, the prices for making use of hydropower won’t raise in time. However, we should also note that we cannot build hydroelectric power plants everywhere. We require a reliable water source.

illustration of water cycle in nature

2. Pollution Free

The process of turning the energy coming from moving water into electricity does not pollute the environment in any way. Which helps us take care of our planet and minimize the amount of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere, and which could speed up climate change and global warming. That way, we don’t have to worry about acid rain, or that we will pollute our land, air, or water sources.

3. Environment Friendly

Apart from hydropower not polluting the environment, dams are even more beneficial than you could imagine. They can provide us with better water quality, a cleaner water supply, a great place for aquatic life to grow and develop, and even water to use for irrigation purposes.

4. Cost Effective

Another great benefit of using hydropower is that it is free. Well, the actual turning water movement into energy is. This type of energy source does require a quite large investment. That is because we have to build a proper hydroelectric power plant if we want to harness the power of running or falling water. However, once the power plant is up and running, there is little maintenance you have to worry about. Which also means little costs. Moreover, water is free for us to use. So if you think about it, you could say that hydropower is free as well.

5. Safe

You are probably already familiar with all sorts of accidents that happened in nuclear power plants, or power plants that rely on the use of fossil fuels. These accidents can have extremely dangerous consequences for us humans, the biodiversity, and the environment. On the opposite side, even if accidents might happen in hydroelectric power plants, they don’t constitute that much of a danger. That is partly because the only type of “fuel” that we need here is water. So if you were thinking about hydropower pros and cons, this pro is definitely a really important one.

6. Flexible

Since we have already mentioned that we can use dams to store water and use it at our convenience, it is safe to say that hydropower is indeed flexible. Which means that in times of need, for instance when there is a power shortage, we can use water that we previously stored to provide people with electricity. At the same time, when people don’t need a lot of electricity, we can reduce the water flow and save it for when we need it more.

7. Durable

If you were wondering for how long we can use hydroelectric power plants and dams, you should know that we are talking here about entire decades. Yes, you heard that right, once we build a power plant, we can harness power coming from running or falling water for dozens of years. Here is how we just added another great pro to our hydropower pros and cons list.

8. Recreational

Perhaps you’ve never thought of this, but using hydropower also provides humans with some really great recreational activities. What recreational activities, you ask? Well, first of all, think about the fact that behind every dam we build, there will also be a lake. That lake is great for swimming, fishing, or boating. Furthermore, the dam in itself can become a quite popular touristic attraction, which would help that particular area’s economy.

father and son fishing on boat

9. Domestic

Getting close to the end of the pros we have for you today in our hydropower pros and cons list, it is also worth noting that using power harnessed from moving water can help develop local economy. That is because we use water from our own country. Which means less dependency on other nations to provide us with fossil fuels or coal for traditional energy sources.

Hydropower Cons

1. Environmental Changes

Opening up the cons section of our hydropower pros and cons list, the most notable negative aspect of hydropower is the fact that we have to change the environment up to a certain degree. What do we mean by that? Well, in order to build the dam, we have to change water levels. This will lead to floods in certain areas. We also have to build power lines and even roads. All of this impacts the ecosystem and wildlife in a negative way. For instance, the fish population normally develops in a certain kind of habitat that us humans may disrupt when building a dam.

2. Population Changes

By building a hydroelectric power plant, we don’t only force animals to find another habitat, we also force humans to relocate their homes. Since such a project requires quite a lot of space, people who live in the area will have to promptly find another place to live. In some cases, this can happen to entire towns, not just a small number of people.

3. Expensive

It may sound contradictory to have “expensive” and cost effective” in the same hydropower pros and cons list, but hear us out. As we’ve already mentioned, even though producing energy by using water movements does not require any additional money, there is an investment that we have to consider. This investment can be quite steep, which can be a very relevant con in the use of hydropower.

4. Droughts

Even if not all regions have to face droughts, the fact is that some of the hydroelectric power plants can suffer the consequences of a water shortage. So the extremely reliable hydroelectric power can become less reliable when we have to deal with drought.

extremely dry and cracked soil from drought

5. Limited Number of Places

We’ve already mentioned earlier in this hydropower pros and cons list that we cannot build a hydroelectric power plant anywhere. We need a reliable water source and a lot of empty space. Because of that, we might find ourselves without any more appropriate places to build these power plants one day. This would, of course, severely limit our potential to produce energy from this renewable source.

6. Floods

Because dams are such a powerful force, when we release water from them, some low lying areas surrounding the power plant might get flooded. Moreover, dams can also break, which would definitely lead to severe floods. However, this is usually one of the reasons why people prefer to relocate populations living close to a potential hydroelectric power plant.

7. International Tension

Neighbouring countries might reach a complicated situation when one of them builds a dam over their part of a river. Why? Because this changes the way said river flows in the other country. Technically, this can be a source of tension between countries.

Summing It All Up

There are definitely a lot of hydropower pros and cons to keep in mind whenever you want to decide whether the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones. After researching both hydropower pros and cons, we would have to say that overall, the pros are worth harnessing the power of moving water for energy purposes. However, that is not to say that all the cons should not interest us at all. On the contrary, some of the most concerning ones are the impact hydroelectric power plants can have on human populations, the environment, and the biodiversity.

Consequently, more effort should be put into finding ways to diminish or get rid of the negative consequences altogether. As long as we work on doing that, there is no reason why we couldn’t take advantage of the renewable and clean energy water provides us with.

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