Unlocking the Potential of Hydropower
It is no secret that the world is running out of both time and energy. On the one hand, the fuels that we have depended on since the Industrial Age’s dawn are at critically low levels. On the other hand, there have been rising concerns about how human-made pollution and fuel-burning is causing the world’s climate to change irretrievably. More than ever, there is a need for sustainable energy, that is, sources of power that can meet the present needs without polluting – while also ensuring that future generations’ needs are met. Hydropower may be just the solution we are looking for. It does not just cater to the world’s best and safe resource but also allows for sustainable development.
What is Hydropower?
Hydro comes from the Greek word for ‘water.’ Thus, hydropower refers to the process of using water for generating energy. Unlike the traditional forms of energy production, which use water in the form of steam, hydropower uses water’s kinetic energy, such as running or fast-flowing water. Hydropower is a renewable source of energy, which means that it does not run out – as long as humans or nature can find a way of making sure that water flows, civilization would have the blessing of hydropower. This form of energy is also a frontrunner for sustainable efforts because it is also non-polluting.
History of Hydropower
Today, when people think of hydropower, they tend to imagine large and complex structures such as dams and turbines and naturally assume that harnessing water’s power was made possible only in the modern age. In reality, hydropower has been around for a long time –
Many early empires, such as the Persians, Romans, and the Chinese, had their rudimentary versions of watermills, some as early as 4th century BCE. These were used for several purposes, such as processing grains and metal ore extraction.
With the developed technology of ancient cultures, the Muslim world used large hydropower complexes to power everything from paper to ship production. Many devices of everyday comfort using water technology were also theorized during this time.
Although its heated cousin steam overshadowed hydropower during this era, many cottage industries continue to plant themselves alongside meandering rivers to power their work. Hydropower became particularly noted for canal building.
China’s Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2006 and functioning since 2012, heralded a new age of hydropower, becoming the biggest hydropower project in the world. However, the top position for energy production goes to the Itaipu Dam in Brazil, which produces an incredible 100 terawatt of energy.
How Does It Work?
The production of electricity through hydropower is a fascinating process and involves several sequential steps that happen very quickly. Before that, let’s learn about the three major parts of the power generation process –
- The first is the dam, a physical barrier that helps humans control water flow, usually that of a big river. The opening or closing of the dam starts or stops the generation process.
- The second is the reservoir, which holds the water when the dam is closed. These are essentially artificial, human-made lakes.
- The third is the power plant, which collects and distributes the electricity generated.
Here are the steps of hydropower generation –
- Firstly, the damns are constructed across strategic places on a river, such as gravity does most of the work as the water flows from the reservoir back into the river. The water is held here till the electricity is required.
- When the water is released from the reservoir, it goes in through an intake. Then it enters a pipe called the penstock. Here, turbines are placed. The water, as it flows, turns the blades of this turbine.
- The kinetic motion of the blades powers a generator, producing electricity. This electricity is usually conducted out through electrical wires and distributed where needed.
Thus, a very simple process takes place behind dams’ massive structures, generating hydropower that can transform millions of lives and ensure that human potential is not damaged by the end of fossil fuel.
Disadvantages of Hydropower
As can be seen from the sections above, hydropower does have a lot of potentials. However, it is important to understand its disadvantages as well to analyze this power source critically. Here are the major problems associated with hydropower projects –
- Loss of Land
For hydropower to be worth its cost, it needs to generate a lot of electricity, which has only been possible via dams. Unfortunately, dams lead to the submergence of a vast area of land, which means that its flora and fauna vanishes underwater too.
- Human Cost
Across the world, hydropower projects have often been constructed in rural areas. The burnt of this technology and the problems it brings – loss of land and resources. It is born disproportionately by the poor and the marginalized, while the urban areas have reaped the benefits.
- Disruption of Natural Water Flow
Dams can disrupt the natural flow of river water. It can harm the environment. There have also been many disputes between countries and states within countries as dams reduce water availability in the downstream area.
- High Initial Cost
Hydropower projects can run at minimal cost for a long time, but the initial process of installing everything can become very expensive. It is especially damaging for poorer regions that may need such cheap and reliable energy but cannot put in the investments required.
Hydropower is also not as safe as many believe. Dams can break and lead to flooding, or reservoirs can dry up completely and cause energy production to come to a standstill. Without proper planning, a state may have an expensive dam and no electricity production to offset its cost.
Advantages of Hydropower
Despite these disadvantages, there are a lot of benefits of hydropower that make is worth a consideration, especially for sustainable development –
Hydropower is renewable, which means that it will not finish like fossil fuels. It guarantees humans a long-term source of energy. Modern dams’ adjustment capabilities also mean that hydropower can produce as much as required by humans without wasting excessive electricity.
Some carbon and other pollutants are released by hydropower, coming mainly from the reservoir’s flora’s decomposition. However, these can be easily offset with good planning. Otherwise, hydropower is one of the world’s most eco-friendly forms of energy.
The reservoir created by the dam can be used for several public good purposes, including boating, fishing, and educational trips. These can produce additional revenue for dam maintenance while also educating people on this renewable energy source.
Even among the renewable sources, hydropower is the most reliable form of energy. Winds may die down, and the sun eventually sets, but river water continues to flow. This steady flow of water means a steady supply of electricity to humans.
Though there are land costs to hydropower, proponents argue that it can help develop surrounding rural areas, which are often neglected. Roads, highways, restaurants, and shops all mean better income for those settled around the dam.
Like every other thing on the planet, hydropower thus has both major positives and benefits. It then falls on developers and states to ensure that the pros are maximized. The cons are minimized so that hydropower becomes a renewable and eco-friendly source and an equitable one.
The World's Relationship With Hydropower
Faced with the looming energy and climate crises, many countries, international agencies, and private companies have stepped up and adopted various hydropower projects. Here is the world at a glance on where it stands on hydropower.
- Today, hydropower accounts for 16% of the world’s energy production, and a whopping 70% of the energy that comes from renewable sources.
- However, the potential is much more – estimates suggest that around 60% of the world’s hydropower potential remains untapped, which must be urgently looked into.
- The Asia-Pacific region leads the world in hydropower production, generating 33% of the global hydropower in 2013. China, followed by Brazil and Canada, are the topmost producers of hydropower.
- The world added almost 15 gigawatts of hydropower in 2019, a capacity that can power millions of homes with clean, sustainable energy.
Is Hydropower Enough?
Even though hydropower has awesome potential and is a clean, renewable source, it may not be enough to power our future needs. The energy demand will only grow as time passes, both due to technological advancements and rising populations. Thus, hydropower needs to be a part of a strategic, international plan that incorporates multiple renewable sources, including solar, geothermal, and wind sources, to ensure a truly dependable and sustainable future power system.
Hydropower has been with humans since the dawn of civilization. From processing grains to helping power metropolitan cities, hydropower has grown alongside humans. Despite its presence, humans have continued to favor other energy sources that burn quickly and cause a lot of damage to the environment. In the interest of the future of the world, hydropower needs to be given much more importance.