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Hydropower Pros and Cons – How Efficient Is It, Really?

We’re living in a time when turntables happen all the time. As a result, we’re starting to measure even the hydropower pros and cons. Just how useful is one of the world’s oldest sources of energy? And is it possible for it to do more harm than good?

srisailam dam with its gates open

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Hydropower represents production of energy by using the natural movements of water flows, such as rivers. On a large scale, however, we make use of hydroelectric power plants and dams in order to distribute electricity to a great number of people. Hydropower marks 16% of the total means of energy productions, with countries such as China, Brazil, Canada, and the USA taking the lead as the biggest producers.

A Short History

Hydropower has been used for thousands of years, early uses of this form of energy production dating back to Ancient Greece. During the times, the energy of water streams was used in order to turn wheat into flour by using a wheel powered by the movements. Not even knowing that they were using kinetic energy, Greeks of the Antiquity laid down the foundation for alternative energy sources.

Around the time humanity discovered electricity, they also discovered an alternative means of powering it. In the 19th century, the United States became the host of the world’s first hydroelectric power plant. It was located in the city of Niagara Falls. Construction started in 1879 and by 1881, most of Niagara Falls’ street lamps were powered by it.

Hydropower Pros and Cons

It does sound like an ideal and environmental-friendly way to produce energy, but hydropower pros and cons are real. After all, you can hardly find something that’s entirely good or entirely bad.

Hydropower Advantages

#1 It’s Renewable

The biggest advantages of hydroelectric energy revolve around its status as an eco-friendly alternative source. It being renewable means that we don’t need to worry about exhausting the resource or it becoming so scarce that the prices will skyrocket. Water gets heated up by the sun, it evaporates, reshapes into clouds, and then returns to the ground as rain or snow.

#2 It Doesn’t Pollute

The reason why we needed eco-friendly energy sources in the first place was because modern electricity production is too damaging to the environment. Even though we’re debating hydropower pros and cons, one thing won’t change – hydroelectricity is easy on nature and our atmosphere. There are no chemical compounds involved, like in the case of nuclear power plants for example, so the air and waters remain healthy.

#3 It’s Reliable

Once you have a dam up and running, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll always have energy from then on. There are no random power failures or any weird changes in the flow that might endanger the electricity production. It’s a preferred method to, say, sunlight since the sun can often be covered by clouds and it can either weaken or completely cut off energy production. The countries that are top hydropower users use it as a base source of energy because of their generous masses of water.

#4 It’s Low-Cost

You don’t require enormous amounts of money in order to maintain a hydroelectric power plant. Most of the costs go into the initial construction of the dam, specifically to ensure that it’s going to withstand the test of time. Dams are built with long-term vision, meaning that they can typically keep running for years at a time with no interventions. Moreover, the other adjutant components are few, meaning that the maintenance costs are surprisingly low.

#5 It Saves Water

The Earth definitely has a big reserve of water sources, but that’s not all that helpful when you consider the fact that it’s mostly salty. In this regard, dams can have a double purpose. Aside from controlling the water flow for energy production, they can also stock up the water in a reservoir and keep it from getting wasted into seas and oceans.

Hydropower Disadvantages

#1 It’s Limiting

Unlike other types of energy sources, we are pretty limited by the number of available reserves. The main disadvantages of hydropower revolve around how inflexible it is. Hydroelectric power plants need to be built near water sources. You can’t bring the water source to you, so you have to go chase it. This can be a huge inconvenience as many of them can be in secluded areas with limited access or in zones that don’t really allow the construction of a dam.

#2 It Can Indirectly Damage

The hydropower pros and cons and directly proportional. Even though hydropower doesn’t have any direct negative effects on the environment, the path to hydropower, however, can. As previously mentioned, the power plants need to be built around the water sources. Sometimes, in order to gain access to these areas, we are required to disturb nature to build roads, create access paths, and pull wiring through.

#3 It’s Potentially Dangerous

Admittedly, it’s definitely not as dangerous as nuclear energy, but it can pose a different kind of great risk. Dams represent huge and grandiose projects and any rupture or crack can result in devastating results. The contained water could spill beyond the dam and flood all nearby areas, taking a great number of lives.

#4 It Can Change Climates

Gathering a huge amount of water in one single place doesn’t happen without its consequences. In time, in the depths of the water reservoir various types of aquatic flora can develop. In turn, this can alter the atrophy of the area and potentially lead to the death of local wildlife of flora.

#5 It’s Initially Expensive

Let’s continue with the hydropower pros and cons that go right in hand. It may not be expensive to maintain a hydroelectric power plant or a dam, but it can be extremely costly to build one in the first place. This is one of the main reasons why some countries are reluctant to invest in their construction.

Conclusion

If there’s one thing we can say about hydropower pros and cons, it’s that they complete each other fairly well. Hydropower isn’t costly to maintain, but it’s expensive to kick off. It’s an eco-friendly source of energy, which ironically may require environmental damage for access. At the end of the day, we just need to establish whether all these risks are worth it for the sake of our planet’s health.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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