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Hydroelectric energy is the most widely used renewable energy source. China is the world’s leading generator of hydroelectricity. The United States, Brazil, India, Canada, and Russia are other top hydropower producers. Hydropower accounts for approximately 71% of all energy from renewable sources generated on Earth. But, as they say, good things have certain pros and cons too. In this article, we shall read about the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy.
Hydroelectric energy, often known as hydropower, is the generation of electricity using generators powered by turbines, transforming the potential energy of flowing or rapidly moving water into mechanical power. Hydroelectric electricity was the most frequently used renewable energy source in the early twenty-first century, accounting for more than 18% of the world’s power generation capacity in 2019.
Water is collected or stored at an elevated height and carried downward through massive pipes or tunnels to a lower elevation to generate hydroelectric energy; the difference between these two elevations is known as the head. The falling water forces turbines to whirl after their journey through the pipes—the turbines, in turn, drive engines, which convert the turbines’ mechanical energy into electricity. Transformers then convert the alternating voltage suited for the generators to an increased voltage appropriate for long-distance transmission. The powerhouse is the structure that contains the turbines and generators along with which the pipes or penstocks feed.
Despite significant drawbacks, hydroelectric energy is one of the most sustainable sources of energy production accessible today. It does not consume fossil fuels, emits no hazardous emissions, and delivers an ongoing clean energy supply. While dams can have a significant environmental impact, they only cause pollution during construction. The actual creation of electricity emits no carbon dioxide.
While you are likely to drink directly from a river (or ocean) soon, one of the primary benefits of hydro energy is that water is almost everywhere and can be used to generate hydroelectric electricity. Water is a renewable resource that never runs out, allowing us to conserve finite and non-renewable resources for other applications. Hydroelectric energy is also a valuable resource since it gives countries more energy independence. Decreased interest in external fuel sources may help to reduce conflict and improve economic issues in countries that rely on foreign sources for fuel. Instead, they can use hydro energy to generate clean, domestic power.
Hydroelectric energy is constant, unlike other kinds of energy such as solar, wind, or coal. The quantity of water used to generate power can be quickly changed to match supply demands. This implies that electricity can be made accessible when required, reducing energy waste.
One of the most significant advantages of hydroelectric energy is that it ranks as one of the most efficient energy options on the planet. Assume that solar power has a maximum efficiency of 30-36%, wind power has a maximum efficiency of 25-45%, and coal power has a maximum efficiency of 33-40%. These processes pale in contrast to hydro energy, which converts water into power at up to 90% efficiency. Hydroelectric energy has little to no downtime because the flow of water is only interrupted for regular repairs, maintenance, and upgrades. Solar energy, on the contrary hand, declines in output every night as the sun sets, while wind power is only applicable when there is a continuous breeze.
Although the initial investment may be substantial, once a hydroelectric dam is operational, maintenance and employee compensation costs are comparatively cheap. Furthermore, the price of water does not fluctuate in the same manner as traditional fossil fuels and imported fuels do. Hydroelectric power may save countries a lot of money, and certain countries, such as Paraguay, can acquire practically all of their electricity from hydroelectric dams.
Calculation of the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy is critical because we must understand the influence of our actions when developing sustainable energy solutions. Following are some of the crucial disadvantages of hydroelectric power.
The environmental impact of hydroelectric energy is its most significant disadvantage. Dams can potentially harm or otherwise disrupt the ecosystem upstream and downstream during the construction process. Additional roads and electrical lines must be built to construct a dam, causing environmental disruption. Dams frequently create reservoirs, which flood enormous areas and replace natural habitats. Dams generate areas of motionless or stagnant water, which kills flora and emits greenhouse gases as it rots. This is especially true in humid, tropical climates.
Water flow obstructions can also significantly impact fish migration, particularly for fish like salmon which depend on rivers to breed. Dams can even interfere with biological cues that instruct fish where to go when it’s time to migrate. Some dams have attempted to address this drawback of hydroelectric electricity by constructing fish ladders or elevators to assist migratory fish in reaching their reproductive areas.
Reservoirs remove not only animals from their natural habitats but also people. This drawback of hydroelectric electricity can have a significant impact on communities. Individuals who have lived in the same region their entire lives might be forced to relocate, and while they are usually compensated for their relocation, they cannot pay for the things they have lost. Dams have destroyed cities, towns, and villages, and local cultures have been uprooted. If residents refuse to relocate due to development, they are occasionally evicted from their homes under threat of violence.
While water is an infinite resource, the circumstances required to construct a dam are restricted. This is a disadvantage of hydroelectric energy since it means that dams cannot be built elsewhere. Most ideal places for hydroelectric dam construction have already been utilized for this purpose. Another point to remember is that even if a location is suitable for a hydroelectric dam, the project might need more profit to make it feasible.
When assessing the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy, it’s crucial to remember that water can and does go through cycles of excess and scarcity. Low water levels can significantly impact energy production and are a drawback of hydroelectric energy. Besides being influenced by drought, hydropower energy production can exacerbate drought conditions downstream if adequate water is not allowed to pass through. This is particularly true if the dam is built alongside a river or reservoir, enabling water to flow into another country. The country upstream could, either purposefully or unintentionally, produce drought in its neighboring country.
Another downside of hydroelectricity is the cost of constructing a dam in the first place. Even though they are not expensive to run, the time it takes for the dam to make payments for itself might vary considerably. Some dams take 2-5 years to build, but others, such as the Itaipu Dam in Brazil and Paraguay, might take much longer, resulting in higher expenses. The Dam took 18 years and $18 billion to construct.
In the 1950s, an estimated $2,000 billion was invested in dam construction worldwide, with average delays in construction of 44% and cost overestimations of 96%. Excessive spending and inefficiencies make it more challenging to recover the money spent on the dam’s development.
Hydroelectric energy is one of the most essential, affordable, and commonly used renewable sources. Hydropower has been used since the dawn of human civilization and accounts for approximately 16.6 percent of overall electricity output. While hydropower has advantages over other energy sources, it also has environmental and societal risks. calculating the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy is crucial because we have to comprehend the influence of our activities when developing sustainable energy solutions. Since hydroelectric energy has both advantages and disadvantages, it is undoubtedly an efficient means of creating energy for a sustainable future. We can make a more informed decision regarding energy generation in your community by researching the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy.
Also Read: Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy Resources