If a region is blessed with abundant water supply in the form of free-flowing rivers, hydropower is undoubtedly the best bet among the available alternative energy sources. Basically, hydropower or hydroelectricity is electricity produced by harnessing moving water by constructing a dam on the river. The water from this dam is released in a controlled manner to rotate the turbines, and this rotation of turbines generates electricity. If you take into consideration the numerous pros of hydroelectric power that are put forth by its advocates, it looks more than promising. The critics though, don't seem to be impressed by it. In fact, they seem to be more worried about its drawbacks.
Hydropower Energy Facts
Around 20 percent of the total electricity produced in the world is attributed to hydropower. In the United States, hydropower generation has come a long way since the first hydroelectric power plant was set up on September 30, 1882, on the Fox River in Wisconsin. Though the United States boasts of being one of the top 5 countries in hydroelectricity production (alongside China, Canada, Brazil, and Russia), it is yet to reach the benchmark set by countries like Norway, which are entirely dependent on this source of power.
In terms of production cost, hydroelectric power, which costs .85 cents a kilowatt hour, is the cheapest mode of electricity production. In contrast, coal costs around $1.10 to generate the same amount of electricity.
Hydropower Pros and Cons
It is important to go through the pros and cons of this energy to find out whether the concept is really feasible or not. Other than the facts mentioned above, those in support of this alternative energy source also put forth the advantages of hydropower given below.
- Environment Friendly: One of the most environment friendly source of power, hydropower eliminates the need of burning fossil fuels for power production and this gives it a definite edge.
- Reliability: Hydropower is much more reliable as compared to other alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind, or geothermal energy, as river water flow is more predictable than sunlight, wind, and crustal movements.
- Renewable: River water which is used for production of hydroelectricity can be eventually used for civic water supply as well as for irrigation purpose.
- Cost-efficient: Once the setup is in place, hydroelectricity production doesn't require much financial support. Similarly, the cost of maintenance is also quite low for an alternative energy source.
- Other Uses: The water that is stored in the reservoir can be utilized for various other activities, including recreational activities, creation of new wildlife habitats, conservation of resources, etc.
As we mentioned earlier, the critics of hydropower energy seem to be least impressed by the advantages mentioned above. They also argue that the disadvantages of this concept have an upper hand, and it would be utter foolishness to go ahead with this concept. The disadvantages of hydropower generation which the critics often highlight are ...
- Destructive for Environment: The belief that hydropower dams are beneficial for environment is just a myth, as water encroachment on the land around the dam results in habitat destruction for species.
- Setup Cost: There is no doubt about the fact that hydropower production is cost-efficient, but initial expenditure, i.e., the cost for building a dam, makes it quite expensive.
- Natural Occurrences: It is again a myth that hydroelectricity generation is not affected by natural occurrences. Even a drought can affect the capacity of a hydropower plant by a significant extent.
- Threat for Marine Life: Construction of a dam on the river hampers the flow of water, which, in turn, adversely affects the lifeforms inhabiting it. More importantly, species of fish in the river also die by getting caught in the turbines.
- Threat for Humans: There have been incidents of dams collapsing and resulting calamities like flash floods in the past. Such occurrences cannot be ruled out even today. Even though we have made a considerable progress over the last few years, any such disaster now can cause much more destruction than it did in the past.
Frankly speaking, it is difficult to come to a concrete conclusion about the feasibility of hydropower generation after weighing these pros and cons against each other. While the pros seem quite promising, its cons―the threat to the ecosystem and human settlements especially―cannot be ignored. At this point of time, it is wise to give this concept some more time to develop, so that new plans to eliminate its cons and make it more efficient can be chalked out.