Humanity has been harnessing the power of flowing water for centuries. Today, hydroelectric power is responsible for producing a large percentage or even majority of the electricity supply for the whole state. There are many advantages to hydroelectric power that have helped this technology persist and develop, however the practice is also controversial due to some important disadvantages.
Advantages of Hydroelectric Energy
1. No Carbon Emissions
Hydroelectic power features prominently in the clean energy plans of many countries, states and localities because it generates a large amount of electricity without the releasing any carbon into the atmosphere. Many of these projects are already in use so it does not require any new emissions from construction or industrial production to utilize them.
Many forms of energy such as coal or uranium are finite natural resources, meaning there is only so much to be dug up and used before society must switch to an alternate fuel source. Due to the natural water cycle, hydraulic power is constantly replenishing it’s supplies and should never run dry. The amount of power produced can fluctuate as a result of draught and lower water levels however this is usually seasonal or corrected by natural changes.
3. Large Source of Electricity
Unlike other sources of renewable energy, hydroelectric power can produce a large amount of electricity from a single site that can then be transmitted across large distances, making it especially compatible with the existing electricity grid. Additionally, because the water is always flowing, pending some seasonal deviations, hydroelectric power does not suffer from the same intermittency limitations as solar or wind.
Disadvantages of Hydroelectric Energy
Opposition to hydroelectric projects such as Hetch Hetchy helped spawn the early conservation movement in the United States. Today, many environmentalists disagree over whether to support the continued use of hydroelectric power because it is a clean, renewable source of electricity, or try and remove the dams because they are incredibly destructive to the surrounding landscape.
Hydroelectric projects are among the most costly large infrastructure to build. Marvels of modern engineering like the Hoover or Three Gorges Dam took billions of dollars and millions of man hours to construct.
3. Disrupt Fisheries
Species of fish such as Salmon require unobstructed rivers so they can swim up them to reach traditional spawning grounds. Additionally, fish that spend their whole lives in a river can be severely effected by the introduction of a dam and reservoir to an ecosystem. This can devastate fisheries as well as the communities that rely on them.