Finding a reliable source of energy that we can all depend on in the years to come has been a growing concern for a very long time. And as we all move forward looking at ways to decrease carbon emissions and the tragic results of global warming, it is becoming more important than ever before for us to find a reliable energy resource as soon as possible.
Sustainable sources of energy are those that can be easily renewed. And the most prominent idea that we have going for us right now is to use natural sources of energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric.
What is Hydroelectric Energy?
Hydroelectric energy is a form of kinetic energy that is possessed by flowing water. It is energy that is produced by large bodies of water such as an ocean, river or lake. Solar energy is also responsible for nature’s water cycle and, therefore, is also a very important component in hydroelectric energy.
Water that is in the lakes, oceans, and rivers absorbs solar energy, which later evaporates to form massive clouds in the sky. These clouds move because of the air currents and eventually, the water returns back to the earth either in the form of rain or snow.
Man has used the energy from flowing water for generations. They used the fast-paced rivers to rotate the wheels on mills, which would help produce flour or grind wheat. Water would also be used to help transport large heavy logs from the forests to the residential areas, where they were used to build homes, barns, and other structures.
These days, we still use water as a form of energy. However, we have found a way to harness the power in flowing water to help generate electrical energy, which is used to power up our homes and places of business.
The History of Hydroelectric Energy
Hydroelectric energy is not anything new. It has been used for hundreds of years as a reliable source of power long before we even had electricity in our homes. Ancient communities once used running water such as from a river to turn water wheels and grinders for grains. They also used hydroelectricity to pump water to various locations.
Over time, people started to look for ways to harness that energy and power. They would build turbines at naturally occurring water sources such as waterfalls. By doing so, the first hydroelectric plants were set up and powered, with one of the first being located at Niagara Falls in 1879.
Later on in 1882, power operators built a plant along the Fox River in the United States. This was used to power two paper mills and a residential home.
Technology advanced over time and the increasing demand for electricity to be available in more areas was on the rise. This caused the construction of man-made waterfalls and dams to be built all throughout the 1900s. However the use of hydroelectric power was soon on the decline as fossil fuels took a front seat in the 1940s.
But the dominance of fossil fuel use was very short lived since the growing interest in electricity generated by hydropower was later revived during the 1970s, when the price of using fossil fuels began to steadily increase and became unaffordable for a lot of people.
The Statistics for Hydroelectric Power
Here are a few interesting facts and statistics on hydroelectric power that you may not know.
The largest dam in the world is the Three Gorges Dam in China. It is built on the Yangtze River and the dam rises up to 185 meters. It is 2.3 kilometers wide and has an installed water capacity of 22,500 MW.
The Itaipu Dam that is located between Brazil and Paraguay is also known to be the largest dam in the world in terms of its annual electricity generating capacity. The dam has an installed capacity of 14,000 MW.
With that size, it is able to generate 94.7 TWh and 91,6 Twh (Tera Watt hours) during the years 2008 and in 2009 respectively. When you compare those numbers to the amount of electricity that was produced by China’s Three Gorges Dam, they only produced 80,0 TWh and 79.4 TWh during the same years.
The Production of Energy from Hydroelectric Energy
The most important thing about hydro energy is that it can be converted into electrical energy by using a structure known as a turbine. The electricity that is obtained from this water resource is known as hydroelectric power.
Flowing water that is in a river can be collected in a dam at a very high altitude. The water that is kept in the dam is a saved energy resource. When the water saved by the dam falls down on the turbine, all that potential energy stored in the dam suddenly changes to kinetic energy.
The turbine is connected to a very powerful generator. As the turbine starts to turn, it rotates the armature of the generator, also known as the dynamo, inside a magnetic field that is between the North and South pole pieces of a strong and powerful magnet. This is all because of the alternating E.M.F. that is produced between the two magnetic terminals. This type of miniature hydroelectric energy power plant can be built along rivers and lakes to provide us with a source of natural energy.
What are the Advantages of Using Hydroelectric Energy?
There are several advantages associated with using hydroelectric energy.
- It doesn’t produce any environmental pollution
- It is a cheap alternative source of energy
- It is a simple renewable source of energy
- The dams that are constructed over rivers can help us in irrigation and control the floods caused by heavy storms.
- Hydroelectric energy has a lifespan that is a major advantage over electricity. It is the type of power resource that can be generated consistently for decades without using up any type of raw materials.
- Hydropower has a load factor that is between 40 and 60 percent. This is very desirable for electricity generation, especially when you compare it to the 15 to 40 percent that we obtained from wind and solar power.
- Many times when a dam is built to harness the power of hydroelectricity, lakes will form behind the dam. That water can then be used for leisure, tourism, water sports, or for irrigation.
- Storing water behind dams has a very unique advantage of placing hydropower as a support of solar and wind energy systems. Hydroelectric power doesn’t need to be used all the time at full capacity to be functional. But it can be amped up at times with other methods during times when electricity is not working or when there is a very high demand for power.
- One of the best things about hydroelectric energy is that it doesn’t produce any carbon emissions the same way that electricity does. Hydroelectric systems must have embodied energy consumption and will need to produce emissions that come along with construction. But they do not produce the same amount of toxic by-product as carbon per hour of power produced.
What are the Disadvantages of Using Hydroelectric Energy?
Unfortunately, there are also a few disadvantages to using this renewable form of energy.
- Flowing water is not available in all areas.
- Due to the construction of dams over the rivers, plants and animals that live in the area may be run off from their homes or even killed.
- The ecological balance in the downstream areas of the rivers would become disturbed.
- Some major dams have experienced fatal disasters over time.
- The dams create large reservoirs and lakes in areas where they would not otherwise be. This can cause the destruction of natural resources and the environment. It can also endanger local families and wildlife, as well as cause some communities to have to relocate if too much water gets out.
Countries that Currently Top the List for Hydroelectric Energy Use
There are several countries all throughout the world that are now turning to the sustainable use of hydroelectric energy. They have seen the benefits of this affordable and renewable resource and want to continue using it to help benefit their environment.
China is currently at the top of the list of the countries that uses the most hydroelectric energy. There are also many European countries that are starting to use this valuable energy resource such as Albania, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, and France.
Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, New Zealand, India, Nepal, Russia, Japan, Venezuela, and the U.S. are other countries that lead in the production of hydroelectric energy. Currently, Paraguay meets 100 percent of their energy requirements by using hydroelectric energy alone.
Is Hydroelectric Energy A Resource for Power in Your Area?
Hydroelectric energy is a valuable resource that is widely used all throughout the world. It can serve as a backup source of power when electricity is down and provide energy if there are blackouts in an area. These dams and reservoirs offer plenty of resources to the communities they serve, and many people also visit the area for recreational purposes.