For thousands of years, technology has been deployed to take advantage of the force of nature, think of the sails on ships for example. As the world’s need for energy increased and we realised that fossil fuel supplies wouldn’t last forever, engineers began to look at nature as a power source. Today we are well on our way to meeting the challenge of renewable energy. So how is the world today facing up to its renewable energy responsibilities? Today we investigate Hydro Electricity.
Hydroelectric power, using the energy of rivers is arguably the most potent means of providing renewable energy. In the last ten years, 20% of the world’s electricity came from hydroelectric plants; this translates to 88% of the world’s renewable energy supply.
Hydroelectric power involves harnessing the kinetic energy from moving water to power an electric generator. So what are the benefits of this type of renewable energy?
- Hydroelectric power is completely unaffected by the rising cost of fossil fuels
- The power used to start up the plant can be self-sustaining if some power is stored
- Hydroelectric power plants have incredibly low operating costs, running simply water
- These power plants often became a tourism and leisure hotspot
- Hydroelectric power plants can be used immediately, meaning they can be switched on in periods which require a lot of energy
- Any excess water can be used for irrigation
- When in operation hydroelectric dams do not produce greenhouse gases or pollutants.
This all sounds great, but what are the disadvantages?
- Hydroelectric power plants effectiveness can be limited by droughts
- High development costs mean that hydroelectric dams must operate for many decades to become profitable
- Flooding of large areas can destroy the natural environment
- The buildings of some dams can cause Geological damage
- In the past dams have collapsed under the heavy weight of water
Case Study – The Hoover Dam
The Hoover dam, which was first known as the Boulder dam is a concrete dam located in the black canyon along the Colorado River, around 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The Dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the depths of the Great depression.
The Dam’s purpose was to provide irrigation, flood control and hydroelectricity which would serve the states of California and Arizona. The Dam stands at 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. Until 1948 the Dam had the crown of remaining the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world.
Today, the Dam is still in operation and is a National Historic Landmark, Hoover Dam draws some 7 million tourists a year and another 10 million visit Lake Mead for leisure pursuits.
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