Understanding The Basics Of Hydropower As An Energy Source


In recent years, renewable energy sources have become significantly more popular and most people are able to discuss the various options available to them with some ease. Hydropower, for example, is something most people will recognize as a renewable energy source that is somehow related to water. While this is possible enough to win someone a prize at a quiz, when it comes to deciding whether or not to utilize it in a home, people have to take the time to learn everything they can about it.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page, AZWhat is Hydropower?

Basically, technology that makes use of hydropower is actually making use of flowing water that will then create energy that can be turned into electricity. According to U.S. Department of Energy;

Hydropower, or hydroelectric power, is the most common and least expensive source of renewable electricity in the United States today.

Since many of the technologies that draw the power from water are stationed in dams, rivers and oceans, professionals will often be able to sit back while the natural movement of the waves or the flowing water does the job for them. About 6% of the electricity within the country was produced by hydropower sources back in 2008, and this number has only been rising as renewable energy becomes a more popular subject throughout the country and the rest of the world. One of the best things about this renewable energy source is the fact that it can be used on a small and large scale basis.

Drawing Mechanical Energy

Since it is mechanical energy that is being drawn from water, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration;

The amount of available energy in moving water is determined by its flow or fall.

Large rivers can produce quite a lot of energy, particularly when it descends from a high point, such as the Niagara Falls. In order to convert the mechanical energy into electricity, water is usually run through a pipe, after which it spins blades in a turbine that is connected to a generator that produces the electricity.

Alqueva damRun-Of-The-River Systems VS Storage Systems

Run-of-the-river-systems tend to differ from storage systems because while the former relies on the movement of the river to turn the turbines, the latter actually stores up the water in dams or reservoirs before releasing it so that it can generate electricity.

A Brief History of Hydropower

People have been using hydropower as a source of energy for thousands of years already; in the past, it was mainly used to grind grain. As early back as the 1800s, the United States has been using technology run on hydropower in order to generate electricity and the first power plant was built on Fox River, Wisconsin back in 1882.

Of course in order to take advantage of this power source, the plants need to be situated near water sources, but it was quickly after the initial plants were built that the experts figured out how to transmit the electricity over longer distances.

Understanding Microhydropower

Microhydropower plants are set up in areas where there isn’t a need for more than about 100kW of electricity in order to run homes, villages, farms and even ranches. When a larger output of electricity is required, larger bodies of water are needed to be able to generate it, but this isn’t the case with micro systems. These systems often make use of run-of-the-river systems and they work by funneling off a section of the water through a pipeline; this is enough to turn a waterwheel or turbine that begins to produce the mechanical energy that will then be converted into electricity.

The Advantages of Hydropower

There are many advantages of hydropower. Firstly, while setting up these systems might be slightly costly, running them costs next to nothing, except for the maintenance that will need to be conducted on the parts every now and again. Of course the initial costs will depend entirely on the type of system being set up, including the scale of the project.

Another great advantage of this type of system, according to the USGS Water Science School is that;

Fuel is not burned so there is minimal pollution.

Pollution has become one of the main reasons why individuals need to start seeking out alternative energy sources, particularly because of the amount that is produced when carbon fuels, such as coal, is burned in an attempt to create electricity. Since natural sources of energy produce next to no pollution at all, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

It is worth noting that renewable energy sources are very reliable sources of energy. Some people might be under the impression that the amount obtained by these sources tends to fluctuate to great degrees, but this is not necessarily the case and certainly not with all different types of sources available.

Lastly, the biggest advantage of hydropower is that it is renewable; this means that there is no limit to the energy that can be garnered from this source and this makes it a preferred source of power for future generations, particularly with sources of power such as coal becoming more and more limited.

The Impact on the Environment

Although hydropower doesn’t pollute the earth, there are certain impacts that it has on the environment and not all of them are positive. Many of the plants that are currently being used or established are done so in dams and reservoirs. Due to their size and the manner in which they function, hydropower plants could end up affecting the migration of fish, as well as their populations. Due to the movement of these plants, they could end up altering the temperature within the water and alter the flow of the river; both actions could have a negative impact on the plants and animals in and around this water source.

Since so many of these plants were built in some of the larger water sources in the U.S., there isn’t a lot of space to continue building more today, so only about 10% of the electricity used within the country comes from hydropower. Professionals intend on altering this by building smaller plants that actually provide power to smaller communities, rather than larger ones that service cities.

The future of hydropower is a very bright one, and with more people finding this option to be all the more appealing, it seems that many more plants might be popping up in the near future.

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