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Hydroelectric Energy

Fossil Fuels are running low and greenhouse gases are only becoming worse. Which direction in renewable energy will provide for a better environment along with better methods for producing energy?

Hydropower has been used for hundreds of years. The first uses of hydropower were for grinding of grains by farmers, using large wooden wheels turned by the water power. Hydroelectric energy accounts for up to 10 percent of the total electricity used in the United States. In fact water power supplies 15 percent of all electricity to California (Energy Quest, n.d.). Hydroelectric energy can reduce greenhouse gas emission and waste produced from conventional energy production.

Hydroelectric Power and how it works. Hydroelectric power plants can be built in many places in the form of dams or water level differentials. These dams are usually constructed on major rivers. Other forms of capturing hydroelectric power are through water-level differential in the form of tides or from waves (Schilling, Esmundo 2008). Once a dam is in place it begins to obstruct water flow. This creates a reservoir, the pressure of the built up water creates kinetic energy. Some dams use the method of falling water to power their turbines. Corps of Engineers describes the turbines work in technical terms:

“A hydraulic turbine converts the energy of flowing water into mechanical energy. A hydroelectric generator converts this mechanical energy into electricity. The operation of a generator is based on the principles discovered by Faraday. He found that when a magnet is moved past a conductor, it causes electricity to flow. In a large generator, electromagnets are made by circulating direct current through loops of wire wound around stacks of magnetic steel laminations. These are called field poles, and are mounted on the perimeter of the rotor. The rotor is attached to the turbine shaft, and rotates at a fixed speed. When the rotor turns, it causes the field poles (the electromagnets) to move past the conductors mounted in the stator. This, in turn, causes electricity to flow and a voltage to develop at the generator output terminals."

Here is the simplified version. The water is sent through a pipe that leads to a turbine. The pressure and mechanical energy of the water turns the turbine, which is coupled with copper. The friction between the pipe and the copper creates electricity (Perlman, n.d.). The electricity from hydropower can also be harnessed. Valves controlling water flow can be installed to allow for an increase or decrease in electricity produced. Once the river or stream water is pushed through the turbines it is then released. The released water runs-off downstream unaltered by the electricity making process. This makes hydroelectricity a renewable, nonpolluting, and reliable energy resource for the future (Renewable Energy, n.d.).

When considering the environment, hydroelectric power is one of the cleanest around. There are very many advantages to hydropower. The first is simple; hydropower plants only use the moving water to turn turbines. There is nothing added to the water. This means that hydropower does not release air emissions, nor does it release any solid or liquid waste (Schilling, Esmundo 2008). Although hydropower plants are costly to build, the low operating cost makes the build cost-efficient (Renewable Energy, n.d.). Hydroelectricity is the least expensive type of energy found in the United States. It only takes 0.6 cents per kWh to run a hydroelectric power plant compared to 2.2 cents per kWh to run a nuclear or coal based power plant (Schilling, Esmundo 2008). This means that once a hydroelectric dam is built it essentially already paid for itself.  The use of water also cuts down on the release of greenhouse gases. As hydroelectric power burns and releases no fossil fuels, thus helping prevent the greenhouse gas effect. With all of the good associated with hydroelectric power there is also some bad. Hydroelectric plants can be harmful to aquatic life. Dams change and convert river ecosystems when they are installed. Animal’s habitats in the reservoirs may be destroyed and flooded by water. The installation of a dam may also disrupt the migration of some fish. The Pacific Northwest Salmon population has declined from around 16 million to 300,000 due to dams upsetting their migration (Schilling, Esmundo 2008). While upstream plants and animals are drowning, downstream they are being dehydrated. The placement of a dam can block the normal water flow to a valley and destroy the plant and animal life. Another disadvantage of hydroelectric power is the placement of dams and power plants. When dams are built people need to be relocated, usually small farmers. Dams and power plants can have a negative impact on residents. Construction of dams can force residents to relocate, they may be re-housed, find new employment, and if a small farm, new land to cultivate. Dams are also very expensive to construct. Governments are looking at private and international organization for funding of the dams (Planete Energies, n.d.).

Hydroelectric power can be very useful but some things need to change to make that possible. The impact that dams have on aquatic life, both animal and plant, is one major role hindering more wide spread use. Environmental issues and destruction of the ecological balance, both up and down stream need to be altered (Planete Energies, n.d.). For hydroelectric dams and plants to succeed they need to devise a plan of action to alter them, so as to not be so destructive to the aquatic and plant life, where dams are installed. Placement of dams is another important part of hydroelectric power. Dams and power plants need to be placed in which they do not disturb fish and other animal migrations. Large plots of land are also needed to construct a hydroelectric dam. This makes it difficult for dam builders, as for “there is little room left and all of the best spots are taken” (Renewable Energy, n.d.). Smaller scale hydroelectric dams and power plants can be built to sustain small communities. The next issue with bringing hydroelectric power to the fore front is the relocation of people. Building a dam creates a reservoir and would destroy a community. That community must be moved, residents will not be grateful when asked to leave their homes. Many things such as agricultural grounds, archeological sites, and communities will need to be relocated when a dam is built in their area.

Hydroelectric energy is a very clean and efficient energy. This energy is produced from water through dams, waves, or tidal activity. This water can produce kinetic energy by rotating turbines lined with copper which produces electricity. There are many advantages to hydroelectric energy and some disadvantages. The reduction of burning fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gases are huge benefits in hydroelectric energy. The dams are cost efficient and run virtually free. Unfortunately the land and space to place these dams are becoming scare. This means that hydroelectric dams will have to be built smaller to compete with the land disadvantage. Making smaller sized dams will reduce the impact on aquatic life and residents living around the dams.  By readjusting where dams are built, a plan can be devised to make hydroelectric energy more convenient and less harmful on aquatic life. Hydroelectric energy can be the answer to our energy crisis, by producing clean, uncontaminated energy with no waste by-products, and a manageable risk to the surrounding environment. For the cleanest most efficient energy that has the least repercussions on our environment, hydroelectric energy is the top.

References
Hydroelectric Power: How it Works, U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey. (n.d.).Retrieved from: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/hyhowworks.html

Hydro Power. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story.chapter12.html

Renewable Energy- Hydropower (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Renewable Energy - Hydropower

Schilling, M., Esmundo,M. (2008). Technology S-curves in renewable energy alternatives: Analysis and implications for industry and government. New York University, New York.

The Future of Hydroelectric Power (n.d.). Retrieved from:   http://www.planete-energies.com/content/renewable-energies/hydroelectric-power/future.html#

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