Hydropower was one of the first sources of energy production and is currently the largest renewable source of energy. From the Greek word hydor, hydropower is energy that comes from the force of moving water. This process was used more than 2,000 years ago to grind wheat into flour by the Greeks. The very first Hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton Wisconsin, in 1882.
According to the 2018 Hydropower Status Report, published in May of 2018, a record 4,185 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity was generated from hydropower last year alone! Today we will take a look at the history and modern day uses of Hydroelectric power.
The Origins of Hydropower
Before hydro power was employed in electricity production, it was used to perform simple, labor-heavy tasks such as grinding grain into flour. Extensive use is seen by the Roman Empire and Eastern Mediterranean region dating back to first century BCE. Fast forward to the late 1800’s when the first Hyroelectric power plant was opened in the United States. Within a decade, we saw hundreds of hydropower facilities open their doors.
Today, worldwide hydropower capacity rose to 1,267 gigawatts in 2017, with China being the world’s largest producer, which accounted for nearly half of global capacity. By utilizing hydropower over the use of coal, in 2017 approximately 4 billion tons of greenhouse gases were avoided.
How Does it Work?
Perhaps the most important process to understand when discussing Hydropower is the The Water Cycle. First, Solar Energy heats water on the surface of oceans, lakes and rivers, which causes evaporation to occur. Water vapor then condenses into clouds and falls to the earth as rain and snow. Precipitation finally collects into rivers and streams, which lead to lakes and oceans, starting the cycle all over again. During this process, there is a huge potential for energy production.
Hydro Power is commonly produced using the following method. A Dam is erected on a large body of water. This dam creates a reservoir just outside of multiple openings called intake gates. When the gates open, the water travels down a Penstock, which is a pipeline that directs water towards a turbine. When the falling water strikes the turbine, the large blades start to revolve. Inside the generator, the force of the rotating blades causes the shaft to spin coils of copper wire inside a ring of magnets. This creates an electric field, producing electricity.
What are the Negative and Positive Environmental Impacts?
Like most renewable energy sources, there are many benefits to it's use. Hydropower’s fuel supply is not only clean but is constantly renewed by snow and rainfall. There are zero pollutants released in its production process, which is great for the environment. From flooding control, recreational uses like boating and fishing, to relying on domestic sources of energy, over being reliant on expensive and harmful international fuel sources.
While Hydropower has many positives, it is not without its disadvantages. First and foremost, when done improperly, Hydroelectic powerplants can have a major negative impact on local wildlife. Causing a decrease in population or elimination of entire species of fish or animals. Secondly, the cost involved in building Hydroelectric Power Plants is very high and time consuming. Lastly, droughts can have a major effect on both power production and energy costs, as they are directly linked to how much water is available. As we advance and learn to harness renewable energy more effectively, I am sure these negative impacts can be properly managed or eliminated.
With there being so much potential for energy production in hydropower, we are excited for what the future may bring for smaller, residential applications. Keep an eye on the New Arrivals section for the latest in residential renewable power options. As always, we are just a phone call away (877-548-3387) and are happy to offer our expertise on all of your Energy and Power Production needs!