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Hydroelectric power: Great Steps Forwards to Cleaner Energy and a Cleaner Earth

Updated on February 5, 2016
Image courtesy of Baitong333 at
Image courtesy of Baitong333 at | Source

Hydroelectric power: Great Steps Forwards

Hydroelectricity, the innovative energy found and based solely on our water, its current, and the ability to turn that into power. It is a pretty simple design, much like that of a coal-powered plant, just producing clean energy instead. It goes like so; a dam is built which is then filled with water. This water goes through a select intake, penstock and a turbine.

The movements of the turbine go into turning a shaft in a generator that converts this movement into power and takes it through power lines. The process finalizes with the water that passes through the turbine ends up into an outflow. These kinds of plants only work when there is a large river with a high elevation that has a big drop at some point, which is meant to help the water flow steadily and give a good impact on the turbine, thus creating more energy.

All the kinetic energy from the currents is turned into mechanical energy that then turns into electricity. This whole scheme is perfect for reusable water, clean energy and an environment free of coal fueled plants. The energy it provides is also a superfluous amount, giving energy to many. The United States actually has 96% of their renewable energy given to them by hydroelectric plants.

The plants are effective and lasting. They do not create pollution, waste or damage to the ecosystem at all too. With our population growing and our oil resources depleting rapidly, hydropower is a big contender in renewable energy that we will have to adapt to soon.

Energy 101: Hydropower

Hydro plant turbines

A hydroelectric plant has a turbine that soaks up all the movement produced by the water current and takes it up to the generator. These turbines are not put into their place right away though. Even after the plant is constructed and almost ready for use, the turbine still has to wait a bit longer before it is actually placed.

There are two types of turbines that are generally used in the hydro plants. There is an impulse turbine and a reaction turbine. The ones that are used the most are the reaction ones. They work while completely submerged in the water, keeping turbulence levels low and getting the water out through the ends of their blades as they rotate.

On the other hand, impulse turbines take the kinetic energy of the water hitting its buckets or blades to move. Generally, it is a bigger wheel that is towards the top of the plant. The water goes around the wheel as if it was a clock and makes it move as it goes through the blades.

Image courtesy of a454 at
Image courtesy of a454 at | Source

Advantages and Disadvantages

Hydroelectricity is the epitome of harnessing power through gravity, reuse of the water and ingeniousness. Yet, these plants also have their downfalls, such as unintentional damage towards the wildlife living in the waters used in the hydroelectric plants, great costs to build and the possibility of flooding the land.

Hydroelectricity takes water over and over again, never causing any damage to the liquid and gets absolutely clean energy out of it. They also do not create any kind of byproducts because of their conversion of the kinetic movement into electricity and there is total control of the gates and conservation of the water and power. Dams are also built in such a way that will last for many decades to come, and the water in the lake can still be utilized for irrigation.

In contrast though, there are some risks to be taking when taking on this branch of renewable energy. The expenses, the workers and the time put into making something this great and high maintenance is a big number alright. Sometimes that number is too big, and the plant really isn't making enough electricity to generate money to pay that off quickly or easily for that matter. The habitat also plays a small round of Russian roulette when a hydroelectric plant is built. The over flooding of the dam is a real possibility, and that would mean endangering people and animals living near it or in it for that matter.

Building a dam also causes a shortage of water in certain areas. Sometimes it is where the body of water begins and other times where it ends, causing struggle between people who used the water and demand it back. Something else to consider is the geological damage that is wrought when a dam is built, at times causing earthquakes and depression in the earth's surface.

Pros and Cons of Hydro Power

What is the Status of Hydropower Then?

This source of energy is growing throughout the world at a quickening rate, now becoming about 20% of all electricity produced. The countries that are the largest producers of hydro power are; Canada, the United States, the Former USSR, Brazil, China, Norway, Japan, Sweden, India and France. Norway holds high importance though as 99% of all of its electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants.

Hydropower is now also starting to be available at instant demand, which happens when there is a gargantuan need of electricity in any case of emergency. It has become a trustworthy source of energy in many places, keeping its efficiency at an all-time high and accidents are almost nonexistent.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at | Source

Costs of Hydropower

Hydroelectric plants come in different sizes and because of that, the prices for them can vary. Some start at around $ 100k while others could easily reach $2 billion. The fact that stays the same though is the money needed for the actual production of energy is very low, sometimes even less than one cent. And we are 100% sure that this will never change, since there are no unexpected changes because of inflation or lack of water in this department. Once a hydro plant is up and running and begins generating power, we can basically sit back and enjoy the cost-friendly era that it brings with it.

The Future of Hydropower

Even though hydropower is so promising, there haven't been so many investments in that area in recent years. There are other kinds of energies which are still under development and people want to figure out all the kinks to them. Solar, wind, geothermal, all these natural and renewable energies are yet to be explored to their full extent, while on the other hand many feel that all there was to know about hydropower is already known and that there is no reason to continue research or development in terms with it.

I myself don't have the answer to such a thing. Yet, I am propelled to ask and wonder if there is more that we haven't found out about yet. Maybe it could be a system that works more efficiently, one that does not cost that much to make, maybe even one that can start producing and storing energy immediately and stay in mint condition for a century perhaps. These are all proposals filled with holes and not meant as a concrete idea. I am just someone that has to question what there is left to find, may it sound impossible and illogical, and the question for me always stands the same. Can we try it? And if we can, to what extent are we going to go to see if there is any real profit or advantage to this new method.

Because of questions like these we got what we now call hydropower, solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal reservoirs, possibly even more in the near future we cannot yet understand. Only time will tell.

Article by: Steven Gutiérrez

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