Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydropower

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydropower

There’s been a long history of using water flowing in rivers and streams to produce mechanical energy. Hydropower is actually the first-ever source of energy that was used in the production of electricity. Until 2019, the largest source of renewable US electricity had been hydropower, and in 2021, hydroelectric energy provided 6.3% of all US utility-scale generation. Hydroelectricity’s share in the total electricity generation of the US has however decreased with time and this is mostly due to the increase in electric generation from other sources. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of hydropower.

What is Hydropower?

Hydroelectric power is one of the largest and oldest sources of renewable energy and it uses a natural flow of water to generate electricity. Most people associate energy sources with the hoover dam, which is a huge power harnessing facility. Hydropower facilities, however, come in all types and sizes, and some of them are large, while others are small.

Hydropower is easy to obtain and in fact, most of the US makes use of hydropower for electricity, except in two states – Mississippi and Delaware.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydropower

How Does Hydroelectric Energy Work?

There are advantages and disadvantages of hydropower, to better understand both we need to know how does hydroelectric energy works. The hydroelectric technology makes use of the elevation difference that’s created by a diversion structure, or dam with water flowing on one side and out the other to produce the electricity. The energy available from the water depends on the change in elevation and volume of water flowing. This is known as the ‘head’ from one point on to another.

The greater the water flow, the higher the head, and therefore, more electricity will be generated.

The plant-level allows water to follow through a pipe and it is also known as the ‘penstock.’ The penstock spins the blades in the turbine which spin the generator and ultimately produces electric power. Most conventional hydroelectric facilities operate using this technology and this includes the pumped storage and run-of-the-river systems.

What are 5 Advantages Of Hydropower?

The economic benefits of hydropower go beyond the generation of electricity by providing:

  • Irrigation support
  • Flood control
  • Clean drinking water.

The following are 5 advantages of hydroelectric power:

1) It is Inexpensive 

In the long run, hydropower is inexpensive. This may not seem so, as there are high costs associated with its production, but it is one of the most inexpensive renewable energy sources over time.

After the necessary infrastructure has been constructed, there’s usually less maintenance required and upkeep than other forms of energy, and there are many improvements being made in order to improve how hydropower performs.

2) It is Locally Produced

Unlike other energy sources such as fossil fuels and solar panels, hydropower is produced in the US. This is great as it is then associated with job creation, without the need to rely on importing energy.

3) It Can Be Used For Irrigation

Other than generating energy, hydroelectric power facilities also offer the benefit of providing a source of irrigation for crops in the areas they are built. This is true, especially for areas where droughts are common and rain is scarce. Hydropower reservoirs can also be used as reliable sources of fresh and clean water.

What are 5 Advantages Of Hydropower?

4) It is Renewable and Clean

Unlike the traditional fossil fuel sources of energy, using hydropower to produce electricity does not release any pollutants in the air or dirty water.

Of course, there are some environmental considerations that come with large hydropower plants such as reservoirs or dams. However, after they become operational, they do not require you to burn any fossil fuels to produce electricity.

5) It Pairs Very Well With Other Renewable Sources Of Energy

A majority of hydropower plants are storage facilities that store large volumes of water in reservoirs, and they will mostly contain water stored to pull and generate the power. The reliance on stored water by hydropower plants means that this technology is reliable and can provide a stable source of energy and can be paired with solar and wind.

Solar energy and wind power for instance rely on the natural availability of the sun and wind, and just like any other energy storage system, there are times of low wind, and when it’s night, the sun does not shine, which limits production.

Hydropower will provide electricity even when wind and solar cannot, making it more practical and economical as a source of electricity.

What are the Economic Benefits of Hydropower?

The greatest economic benefits of hydropower is the fact that the program has abundant low-cost energy that contributes to electric power grids. The powerplants burn fuel and they operate at low costs, lowering the overall cost of power production. It is also immune to rising fossil fuel prices.

What are the Economic Benefits of Hydropower?

Disadvantages of Hydropower

Continuing to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of hydropower, the limitations of hydropower include:

1) Hydroelectric Power Plants Can be Affected Adversely By The Environment

Hydropower is a renewable source of energy but there are usually environmental impacts associated with building the power plants. Most important of all is the pumped storage of hydropower which can affect the natural flow of the river system.

The effect can disrupt animal migration and bring up issues of water quality for wildlife and humanity.

This negativity will impact the hydropower and typically lower the run-of-river or tidal power setups. Additionally, the current hydropower system and pumped-up storage can block the river flow as well.

2) The Construction Of Hydropower Facilities Is Expensive

Most hydropower plants are large projects that involve the construction of a reservoir, power-generating turbines, and building a dam.

These require significant monetary investments. The large hydropower facility will however be able to provide low-cost electric power for at least 50-100 years after construction and the upfront costs will more than pay up in the end.

When you combine this with the fact that suitable places for constructing the reservoirs are becoming rare, it means that the construction costs will rise even further in the future.

3) Hydropower Facilities Rely Largely On Local Hydrology

Hydropower being a reliable energy source is ultimately controlled by precipitation trends and the weather. However, most of the hydropower energy relies heavily on river water, and this means that droughts will cause an impact on the overall electric production, which can impact the capacity of hydroelectricity.

The amount of water available to produce hydroelectric will vary depending on the weather conditions, and therefore electric production is unreliable.

The Gracon LLC Company

At Gracon, we offer a wide range of construction and development services for hydroelectric plants, including:

  • Piping systems
  • Dam outlet works
  • Underground operations
  • Government buildings

We are experts in construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation. We work to ensure that each dam project is given the opportunity to capitalize on the advantages of dams listed above, plus numerous others. For more information on our dam construction and processes contact us today.