Hydropower is the power or energy generated by harnessing moving water of rivers. When rivers flow downstream, making their way to the ocean, they have tremendous kinetic energy potential. It is this kinetic energy of flowing water that is harnessed and converted into electricity in course of hydropower generation. The electricity produced by hydropower plants is referred to as hydroelectric power or hydroelectricity.
Hydropower is considered the cheapest and cleanest among various alternative energy sources. It is precisely for this reason that it is surprising that most people are unaware of the basic facts about it.
Hydropower: Interesting Facts that You Need to Know
Over the last few years, hydropower has come up as one of the major alternative sources of energy in the world, with developed countries, like the United States, Canada, and China, setting examples for other nations. Around 20 percent of the total power generation in the world is attributed to hydropower as of today. (In the United States, it is 10 percent.) Given below are more of such facts that show how promising this source of energy is.
- The use of hydropower can be traced back to the Ancient Greece, where watermills were used to grind wheat and make flour. In this case, the kinetic energy of flowing water was converted to mechanical energy and used to power the watermills.
- Hydroelectricity came to the United States on September 30, 1882, when the Wisconsin Hydroelectric Power Plant―the first of its kind in the US―was built on the Fox River in Wisconsin.
- The biggest advantage of hydropower is that it doesn't release greenhouse gases in the atmosphere like fossil fuels. The amount of electricity produced by hydropower prevents the burning of 22 billion gallons of oil or 120 million tons of coal every year.
- It also boasts of being the largest renewable source of energy on the planet. If all the sources of renewable energy are combined, hydroelectric power would account for 97 percent of the total energy generated by these sources.
- Hydropower plants have an edge over their coal counterparts in terms of efficiency as well. While these plants can convert 90 percent of the total energy available into electricity, the conversion rate for coal plants is mere 50 percent.
- A modern-day hydropower plant is divided into three parts: the electric plant, dam, and the reservoir. The reservoir is used to store the water, the dam is used to control the flow of water, and the electric plant is the place where electricity is produced.
- Hydroelectric energy is the cheapest source of energy on the planet. While water is available for free, most of the investment revolves around the construction of reservoir. Most hydropower stations recover their set up cost within 8 years of starting operation.
- The reservoirs created for the development of hydropower plants support a wide variety of recreational activities, including boating and sport fishing. More importantly, the advocates of this source of energy argue that the same facility can be used to support various species of birds and animals.
- The critics of hydropower are far from impressed; they argue that the construction of huge reservoirs of water doesn't just damage the ecosystem, but also puts the population in its vicinity at risk.
- The largest hydroelectric power station in the world is the Three Gorges Dam located on the Yangtze river in China, with a generating capacity of 22,500 megawatts (MW). The largest hydropower station in the US is the Grand Coulee Dam located on river Columbia, with a generating capacity 6,809 MW.
While the advantages of hydropower make it seem quite promising, we can't afford to ignore its disadvantages, such as the risk involved in storing water in a reservoir or the threat it poses to the biodiversity. There is no doubt about the fact that hydropower has tremendous potential, but we will be able to make the most of this potential only when we find a solution to its drawbacks.