Go With The Flow: An Introduction to Hydro Energy

It often moves very fast and generally has lots of power behind it.  It’s strong enough to sweep away whole towns and villages and powerful enough to strike fear in the hearts of meteorologists and forecasters worldwide. It’s water.  And people have been harnessing the energy of moving water for centuries, dating back to Ancient Greece, where waterwheels were installed in rapidly flowing rivers to turn millstones. The form of energy that can be generated from moving water is called hydro energy.

How is Hydro Energy Created?

Hydro energy is created in a process that starts when water flows through a dam (the dam can be opened or closed to varying degrees to control water flow and to produce the amount of electricity needed, based on demand). The water behind the dam moves through an intake and subsequently turns blades in a turbine.  The turbine spins a generator and produces electricity. The amount of electricity generated depends on how far the water drops and how much water moves through the system. The electricity can be transported over long-distance electric lines to homes, factories, and businesses.

A small hydroelectric power system can produce enough electricity for a home, but a big one, like the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in northern Washington, can produce “more than 70 percent of the electricity made in Washington State,” according to National Geographic.

Hydroelectric power is the most widely used form of renewable energy and now accounts for approximately 16% of the world’s electricity.

What are the Advantages? How is it a Renewable Source of Energy?

Hydroelectric power has many benefits. For starters, it’s the cheapest way to produce electricity and it’s a renewable energy source, as the water used to drive the turbines is derived from rainwater and melted snow. Hydroelectric power can also be produced and then stored for future use.  Production of hydro energy doesn’t involve burning fossil fuels, like coal or oil, so it doesn’t produce emissions or harmful chemicals that pollute the air. Hydroelectric energy also doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, the element responsible for the green house effect, which is thought to be the reason for climate change. Once a hydroelectric complex is constructed, the project produces no direct waste.

Hydro is also a flexible source of electricity since plants can be ramped up and down very quickly to adapt to changing energy demands.

What are the Disadvantages of Using Hydroelectric Power?

As with everything, hydroelectric power has its disadvantages. For one, damming rivers may destroy or disrupt wildlife and other natural resources. Hydropower plants can also cause low dissolved oxygen levels in the water, which is harmful to wildlife, ecosystems and, in some cases, agriculture. Further, the installation and maintenance costs associated with hydroelectric plants can be extremely costly.  Initial capital outlays can be serious obstacles.

Now that you’re acquainted with hydro energy, check out our articles on other renewable energy sources like, solar, wind and wave energy. And don’t forget to like us on Facebook and to follow us on Twitter.