- Renewable & Alternative Energy
Hydro Energy: A Viable Alternative
Hydro energy is obtained by harnessing the power of falling water for various uses. It has been used effectively since ancient times to run machinery such as waterwheels, turbines and dock cranes. Throughout history, there has been extensive use of moving water to supply energy requirements.
However since the beginning of the 20th century the term hydropower or hydro energy has become synonymous with electricity generation. It is the most commonly type of renewable energy and accounts for about sixteen percent of the world’s electricity production.
Hydro energy is produced in many countries and used most extensively in China. The cost of producing hydroelectricity is fairly low, making it a viable source of energy that is worth further development in the context of dwindling fossil fuel supplies and the negative effects of the latter on the environment.
An advantage of hydroelectricity is that the supply can be adjusted according to changing energy demands. There are no emissions from hydro energy production although the construction of a hydroelectricity power station may result in people in the vicinity of it having to move elsewhere. Often there is also displacement of wildlife and other negative effects on the ecosystem by damming rivers, for example.
To produce electricity in this way, water is kept in reservoirs of different elevations which is then released according to demand causing turbines to rotate and the energy is then captured by a generator.
In periods of low demand, excess electricity generated is used to pump the water back up to the reservoirs to be used again for generating electricity when the demand is higher. This pumped storage method is the most common way that hydropower is used to meet electricity needs.
Wave power can also be used as a form of hydroelectricity but it is not as common as the hydroelectric dam described above.
Canada and the U.S. both use hydroelectricity extensively for their energy needs.
The advantages of hydropower are many. The source is water which is supplied free by nature and can easily be re-used as the example of the hydroelectricity dam above illustrates. Rainfall ensures that the water used is a renewable source of this energy and there are comparatively low maintenance costs for running a hydroelectric dam. Like wind energy and solar energy, the most expensive part of developing the system is the building of it and the installing of the components to generate the electricity. After this, costs to operate and maintain a hydroelectricity dam are minimal.
There are a few disadvantages to using hydro energy however. The damage to the ecosystem and the displacement of people and wildlife from building a dam have already been mentioned above. There is also often a significant impact on the fish population in the river that is being dammed for hydroelectricity. It is also dependent on rainfall to operate.
In summary, hydro energy is indeed a viable alternative to fossil fuels for producing electricity provided the right location can be found for locating the plant that will have a minimal impact on people and wildlife in the area as well as the ecosystem in general. Although there are high costs involved in building a hydroelectricity plant the maintenance costs are then minimal. Hydro energy is widely used all over the world for producing electricity, particularly in China, Canada, Brazil and the United States.
Hydro energy is a renewable, clean source of electricity that is being further developed in the context of minimizing our dependence on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs.