Is Hydro Power Renewable Or Nonrenewable? Understanding Hydropower Sustainability

by | May 8, 2024 | Hydro Energy, Renewable Energy

Home » Renewable Energy » Is Hydro Power Renewable Or Nonrenewable? Understanding Hydropower Sustainability

Hydropower has long been seen as a critical component of renewable energy in the search for long-term energy supplies. It touts itself as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels by utilizing the power of water to generate electricity while producing minimum greenhouse gases—however, whether hydro power is renewable or nonrenewable remains disputed.

Understanding Hydropower

Hydropower, often known as hydroelectric power, is generated by water flow. Dams are usually constructed to create water reservoirs. The controlled discharge of water through turbines produces power. Hydropower has been used for ages, with ancient civilizations using waterwheels to process grain and perform other chores. Today, it accounts for a significant share of the global energy mix, powering millions of households globally.

Is Hydro Power Renewable or Non-renewable?

Hydro power is renewable or nonrenewable is classified based on several characteristics, including its environmental impact, duration, and capacity for regeneration. Hydropower proponents believe it is renewable since it relies on the water cycle, which is a regular natural activity. Water evaporates from oceans and bodies of water, condenses into clouds, and falls back to the Earth’s surface as rain or snow, replenishing water supplies. As a result, water utilized for hydropower generation might be termed renewable. However, detractors point out the environmental implications of large-scale hydropower projects, notably dam development. These projects can harm ecosystems, alter river flows, and displace communities. The construction of reservoirs floods the land, resulting in habitat loss and the emission of greenhouse gases from decomposing plants.

Furthermore, dams can restrict fish migration, affecting aquatic ecosystems. In this view, opponents say that the environmental degradation connected with hydropower makes it non-renewable. Hydropower, often known as hydroelectric power, is a renewable energy source that uses the energy from running or falling water to produce electricity. Here’s an in-depth explanation of why hydro power is renewable or nonrenewable.

  • Natural Water Cycle: The water cycle is primarily responsible for hydropower’s renewable nature. Water is constantly supplied through evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. This means that nature continually replenishes the source of energy, water.

Is Hydro Power Renewable Or Nonrenewable? Understanding Hydropower Sustainability

Source: EIA

  • Sustainable Resource: Water is a sustainable resource, unlike finite resources like fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), which deplete over time and take millions of years to create. While there may be fluctuations in water availability caused by climate change, appropriate management strategies can make sure a reliable and continuous water supply for hydropower generation.
  • No Net Consumption: Hydropower does not use water in the same manner as fossil fuel power plants do. Instead, it generates electricity from the kinetic energy of flowing water without appreciably modifying the water itself. After passing through the turbines, the water continues its natural flow downstream, ready for further use in power generating, agriculture, or other applications.
  • Low Environmental Impact: Hydropower has a lower environmental impact than fossil fuel power facilities. It does not generate greenhouse gases or other pollutants while in operation. While large-scale hydropower projects can have environmental repercussions such as habitat destruction and changes to river ecosystems, modern approaches emphasize limiting these effects by careful planning, habitat restoration, and fish passage technologies.
  • Long Lifespan: Hydropower infrastructure, such as dams and turbines, can last for decades with adequate maintenance. This longevity helps to ensure the long-term viability of hydropower as an energy source since it provides a consistent and good source of electricity over time.
  • Flexibility and Storage: Hydropower systems can both generate electricity and store energy. Pumped-storage hydropower, for example, involves pushing water to a higher elevation when the electricity requirement is low and releasing it to generate electricity when the need is high, functioning as a battery to store energy.

Also Read: Atmospheric Rivers Increases California’s Hydropower Generation

Understanding Hydropower Sustainability

Hydropower is often regarded as a sustainable renewable energy source due to its minimal emissions, long lifespan, and constant electricity availability. However, hydropower’s sustainability is determined by various elements, including environmental, social, and economic considerations. Let’s look into these aspects:

1. Environmental Sustainability

  • Emissions: Hydropower plants emit fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuel-based power plants, helping to mitigate climate change.
  • Water Quality: Properly managed hydropower projects can preserve or improve water quality by controlling flow and decreasing sedimentation, which benefits aquatic habitats.
  • Fish Migration: Dam construction can interrupt fish migration patterns, reducing aquatic biodiversity. Sustainable hydropower projects include fish passage systems to offset these effects.
  • Habitat Alteration: Dam-built reservoirs can affect local environments, displacing plants and species. Sustainable hydropower projects aim to reduce habitat loss while implementing habitat restoration methods when possible.
  • Sediment Management: Dams trap silt, affecting downstream ecosystems and water quality. To offset these effects, sustainable hydropower operations use sediment management measures.

2. Social Sustainability

  • Community Engagement: To ensure social sustainability, hydropower projects should consult and engage with local communities during design, construction, and operation.
  • Indigenous Rights: Projects on or near indigenous lands must uphold indigenous rights and incorporate traditional knowledge into decision-making.
  • Resettlement: Large-scale hydroelectric projects may necessitate the relocation of communities. Fair compensation, adequate resettlement planning, and community development activities are examples of sustainable practices that help alleviate social disturbances.
  • Access to Electricity: Hydropower can enhance access to electricity in rural places, reducing poverty and promoting socioeconomic development.

3. Economic Sustainability

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Hydropower can be cost-effective in the long run due to low operational costs and fuel expenses.
  • Job Creation: Hydropower projects generate job possibilities throughout building and operation, boosting local economies.
  • Revenue Generation: Governments can generate cash from hydropower projects, which can then be reinvested in infrastructure, social services, and environmental protection.
  • Long-Term Investment: Hydropower infrastructure has a long lifespan, generating steady electricity for several decades.

Technological Innovations for Sustainability

Is Hydro Power Renewable or Non-renewable?

  • Run-of-River Hydropower: This technology reduces environmental effects by redirecting a portion of a river’s flow through a turbine without using an extensive reservoir.
  • Pumped Storage Hydropower: Stores extra electricity created during low-demand periods by pumping water to an upper reservoir and then releasing it to generate electricity during peak demand, improving grid stability and integrating intermittent renewable energy sources.
  • Fish-friendly Turbines: Advanced turbine designs lower the risk of fish injury or death while passing through hydropower turbines, increasing aquatic biodiversity.

In conclusion, hydropower sustainability is a multidimensional topic that goes beyond the simple binary of whether hydro power is renewable or nonrenewable. While hydropower uses the energy of flowing water, a renewable resource, it is not without environmental and social consequences. Addressing these difficulties demands a balanced approach considering ecological integrity, social equality, and economic viability. Sustainable hydropower development requires collaboration among governments, communities, and stakeholders to maximize the benefits of hydropower while minimizing its negative impacts. Finally, building a sustainable energy future necessitates a comprehensive understanding of hydropower and its position in the larger energy landscape.

Also Read: What Is Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology?



  • Michael Thompson

    Michael Thompson is an esteemed expert in the renewable energy sector, with a profound experience spanning over 25 years. His expertise encompasses various sustainable energy solutions, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, and energy efficiency practices. Michael discusses the latest trends in renewable energy and provides practical advice on energy conservation.

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