People have been taking advantage of water’s power for thousands of years, with the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese using it to turn mills for many different purposes, and the technology eventually reaching Europe around the 8th century. The major reason for using water power is that it never runs out, as opposed to the animals who used to power mills, who would inevitably need rest and food. Water has been used as a power source for countless applications, including grinding grains into flour, sharpening metal tools, and cutting trees into lumber, among many others. Grinding and sharpening may not be the preferred use of water any more, with hydropower being used more in the forms of hydraulics and hydroelectricity, with dams and turbines the tools of choice for modern hydropower, as opposed to paddles and wheels.
While no source of energy is without its faults, and hydropower has its share, including pollution, habitat disturbance, and initial cost, today, we are focusing on the benefits and advantages of this type of energy. If you’re curious to learn more about people’s relationship with water, this course on the history of water and humans relates the story of how we’ve been benefitting from H20 for the last 10,000 years.
Benefits of Hydropower
Hydropower isn’t all good, but that’s not why we’re here today. Even though it may negatively affect the environment, not to mention the people living within that environment, other times, it just makes sense to take advantage of hydropower. The following positive aspects of hydropower run the gamut from environmental, to social, to economic, all of which make this an attractive power source. To learn more about society and its connection to the environment, check out this course on social psychology to learn how we’re all connected.
- Renewability: Renewable energy comes from a source that cannot be depleted, such as wind, the sun (solar), and water (hydro). With hydropower, we’re not using up the water, but simply harnessing its potential energy (stored accumulated water, like with a dam) and kinetic energy (flowing water).
- Flexibility: Because hydropower can be accumulated, it is able to be tailored to meet any fluctuations in demand. If less power is needed, then more may be “saved up” for later use. Not only that, but other renewable energy sources, such as wind, and solar, are available only at certain times, when it’s sunny and windy, respectively, but water is always available, and is able to pick up the slack when the other power sources are not available.
- Low Cost: Though the upfront costs necessary to build a hydropower facility are a lot, once it’s up and running, the operating and maintenance costs are much more manageable. And because water doesn’t need to be refined or otherwise transformed before being used, like oil, there are no production costs associated with hydropower. Water, also unlike oil, is not subject to the various market fluctuations that may cause the price to balloon. Finally, once they are built, hydropower sources last quite a long time, enduring for at least 50 years or so, up to 100 years or more, and they are easily adaptable and can be upgraded to incorporate new technologies into existing ones.
- Water Storage: Not only can water be used to power homes and businesses, but throughout the process of turning water into energy, rainwater is gathered and used for both drinking water and for irrigation purposes. These things are not only directly beneficial to the populace, but also help to reduce vulnerability to both floods and droughts.
- Relatively Clean: While hydropower is not 100% clean, producing very small amounts of greenhouse gases, it does emit less pollution than power sources that use oil, gas, and coal. The use of hydropower is able to prevent the release the amount of greenhouse gases that would normally be emitted from the equivalent of burning 4.4 million barrels of petroleum per day worldwide. Additionally, there are no toxic by-products generated by the production of hydropower. If you would like to learn more about energy’s affect on the world, this course on energy economics and the environment will show you a few points of view on the subject.
- Benefits Human Development: Besides the obvious primary benefits that hydropower offers to society, it also has many secondary benefits. When bringing electricity to areas that previously had none, hydropower also helps foster industry, commerce, and helps build infrastructure, including roads and navigation. Access to health and education are also increased, and local economies are helped by the addition of jobs, tourism, recreation, and investments. And because this type of power has been around for so long, its various impacts are manageable and well understood, so the possibility of catastrophic side effects are minimal.
- Bolsters Electric Systems: In the event of a blackout, or to meet peak demands, hydropower is able to be injected into a faltering electric system faster than any other energy source, helping to maintain the balance between the supply and demand of electricity.
- Raises Awareness: When a hydropower source is built, it brings attention to the surrounding areas, with new focus on the animal species and ecosystems of the surrounding environment. As a result, there is increased studying of the inhabitants, and they are able to be better understood and managed. If the environmental side of hydropower is more your cup of tea, this course on biology will teach you the basics before going any deeper.
While hydropower may not be the perfect power source, it certainly is a clean and reliable one, with many benefits to not only society as a whole, but the immediate surroundings, as well. With only a fraction of the available hydropower potential having been tapped, we’re still have a long way away from taking full advantage of this long-lasting and renewable power source. If you’d like to apply the sustainable concepts of hydropower to your life, this article on sustainable development will show you how to meet your present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.