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The good, the bad and the ugly about hydroelectricity



Today power generation capacity is spinning at a fast pace as the demand for power and electricity across globe is increasing year on year over crossing the supply. To meet with these uncontrollable demands, conventional methods of power generation is carried out through burning fossils, capturing wind and solar energy along with the classic source of energy from the available abundance of hydro space around the earth. Hoover dam near Niagara Falls, Grand Coulee, and Boulder Dam are among the popular sites for hydro power plants across world. China’s dam in the upper Yangtze River with 18,200 MW of power makes it the most powerful in this globe. In US, the Grand Coulee Dam is the largest with 6,840 MW. The tallest hydropower dam in the world is the Rogun Dam situated in Russia with 335 meters height. Idukki dam in India gets the credit of Asia’s first and largest dam.

Whether it is the moving water or strongly falling waterfalls, the hydropower needs an abundance of this supply. Very similar to a wind power methodology, the hydropower generation requires a hydraulic turbine to convert the flowing water energy into a mechanical energy. This energy is in turn converted to electricity via hydroelectric generator attached. Hence the power of water flowing is a base for generating electricity and hence these plants are installed in a massive form to capture the water current to produce electricity for the world at large.

Though hydro power is considered a clean and safe source of electric power, the debate is still on to undermine its various ill factors affecting the eco system and habitat around. Let us understand the field reality by judging the good, the bad, and the ugly about this hydroelectricity.

The good

Hydroelectric power is stored with many advantages.

Most Abundant: World is surrounded by almost 72 percent of water bodies including oceans, rivers, lakes and streams. Availability of this resource is abundant and regular hence relying on the movement of these water bodies makes hydroelectric power an easy option for a long lasting power generation scope.

Power for years: Once installed, it can yield productive result for generations to come. With its simple methodology and natural availability of water resources, it is a cost effective and reliable source of energy for decades. For instance, the Hoover Dam, which was constructed in 1922, is still an active source of electricity for three of the most highly demanding states in US – the California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Clean power: The hydroelectric power does not burn fossils, do not depend on foreign fuel, and is not heavy for one’s household pocket. It just gives a clean form of electricity for homes and industrial houses. It is certainly a clean power source with its dams not emitting any nuclear waste or anything hazardous to the environment.

Low maintenance cost: Apart from the initial cost of installation of these plants, the cost to maintain these plants is very cheap and cost effective. Take for instance the Hoover Dam, which did not need any renovation for almost 90 years since its inception. Only one large renovation was undertaken to refresh its state, else it is still going strong to capture the hydropower.

Can this be better?

Though there is number of plus factors for this traditional hydro electric power, its visibility is not as significant as any other eco friendly power source like solar or wind. If more hydroelectric power stations and their networks are established across globe, it can pave way to reduce its hurdles existing as on date.

The bad

Hydropower in spite its effort to sustain energy efficiency, fails to attract the global market due to its existing limitations. As against the popular assumption that the hydropower is an environment friendly source, in actual it affects the eco system to a large extent.

Hydroelectric power can seriously damage the climate: Experts have confirmed that the hydro power plant dams can pollute the nature by emitting carbon dioxide and methane. The trees and plants around these dams, which get the direct heat of artificial flooding and decomposing underneath the dam’s bed, are considered the main cause for releasing these harmful green house gases.

Global warming: Methane is considered 21 times much stronger than carbon dioxide to effect the global warming. As the dams turbines indirectly let out the methane from the decomposed plants and trees underneath, they directly participate in global warming issue.

Can this be avoided ?

If these power plants are cleaned at a regular interval of time, they can reduce the advent of buried flora under water. Though this procedure sounds expensive, it is just another option to avoid unwanted gases releasing into the environment. Also, use of alternate source of energy such as wind and solar can replace the existing system to avoid any kind of pollution on the earth.

The ugly

The hydropower has a heavy price to its label. The cost of investment and its adverse effects on the habitat around is what makes it in the list of ugly. Expensive installing of the dams and turbines cost the sky. Only massive projects and industries can think of such investments.

Though once installed it does not call for any expenses of its own, it does make other habitat around to cry for help. This includes not just the trees and plants around but also the villages surrounding these dams.

To create electricity, the movement of water is well captured by these intelligent dams but equally result in artificial flooding. This flooding in turn drowns the existing green valley around and deprives local people out of their homes and livelihood of agriculture. Hence, to revive the nature back and provide a new shelter for people around does require a huge budget.

By adding significant portion of green house gas methane and carbon dioxide into global warming, it gets the not so environment friendly badge to it. The construction of Hoover dam is believed to trigger many earthquakes and altered the earth’s surface in that location.

In addition, these dams result in decreasing the dissolved oxygen level in the water making the fish and other marine species suffer and diminish.

Why are we so critical?

The hydroelectric power has been there for decades and is considered a classic source of providing electricity to the world at large. However more than its prons, its many cons that are recently getting into the eyes of scientists and activists are making this source of energy a real issue to debate. In a recent study, it has been proved that the hydroelectric power dams facilitate emitting the carbon monoxide, thus affecting the global warming. They not just affect the eco system but also the marine life. It destroys fish and changes the flow of rivers and streams. Artificial flooding and huge investment towards it are also considered the main critical points against this system. For instance, during the construction of Three Gorges Dam in China, millions of people were forced to move from their habitat. The artificial flooding and unnatural flow of water has buried many important archaeological sites and monuments.

The Bottom line

Hydropower has been a great and economical source of generating electricity. However, with the advent of modern technologies and findings, this traditional system is under microscopic scrutiny. There are many research published against the use of hydropower. It is estimated that by 2020, the percentage of power from hydropower dams will come down to just 4 percent. This is also because there are no new plants or dams build on hydropower. Wind and solar energy are taking the center stage as a cheap and best alternate source of energy. Hence, it will not be a surprise to see the disappearing interest in hydropower electricity. However, this system will always remain as a simple yet effective source of energy in the books of records.

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