The 2021 Hydropower Status Report states that in 2020, the hydropower industry produced 4,370 TW of clean electricity. With 370 GW of installed capabilities, China was in the lead, followed by Brazil with 109 GW and the United States with 102 GW. Most importantly, the process of producing energy is improving as a result of the quick advancements in energy technology. The capacity of the world’s hydropower plants increased by 15.6 GW in 2019, 21 GW in 2020, and is expected to increase virtually linearly during the ensuing few years. But let’s look at both the benefits and drawbacks of a hydroelectric plant since there are two sides to every story.
Benefits of hydroelectric plants
We’ll begin with the advantages. The following are some noteworthy benefits of hydroelectric power:
Both renewable and zero-emission
A renewable source of energy is hydroelectricity. In other words, the power generation continues as long as the water is moving through the system. Furthermore, there aren’t any unfavourable byproducts, waste (which is one of nuclear energy’s main drawbacks), or greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone, methane, or freons. There are many benefits to renewable energy, as well as some drawbacks.
Power output is consistent.
We brought up solar power to highlight the crucial distinction. Hydro power plants can run continuously, unlike solar power generators because they don’t rely on the night-and-day cycle and are therefore dispatchable energy sources. The hydropower output can also be adjusted by employing turbines to slow down or speed up the water flow. Major electrical disruptions or outages can have a negative financial and productivity impact. The backup power can reduce these effects. Furthermore, when the system isn’t continuously stressed to the brink of failure, problems occur less frequently. The “lifespan” of hydroelectric facilities is between 50 and 100 years. Therefore, the advantages of hydro technology can easily outweigh those of solar energy.
The operation is economical.
Pumped hydroelectric energy storage, or PHES, is used by hydropower plants to balance loads and increase financial efficiency. To be clear, hydroelectric energy can be stored as potential gravitational energy and transferred from a reservoir at a lower height to one at a higher elevation. Pumps that behave in this way typically only run at odd times. The pumped water is released through the turbines when there is a requirement to fulfil peak energy demands, producing additional electricity. Despite the fact that plants are now energy consumers as well as generators, they nevertheless generate money by charging more for electricity during peak times. Additionally, PHES can accept excess traditional energy output, such coal, as well as energy from other renewable sources, including solar, wind, and nuclear energy.
Makes synthetic lakes
Hydropower plants can be built on natural or man-made bodies of water, typically rivers, by building dams. Mega-dam construction is also planned for the sea. Whatever the reason, they result in the development of artificial lakes. From a strictly naturalistic perspective, it encourages the introduction or proliferation of new plant and fish species, and indirectly, it expands the woodland area and generates richer vegetation, which improves animal habitats, particularly for birds.
Helps the surrounding area develop
The construction of hydroelectric facilities improves the local economy. The nation must first create the necessary transportation infrastructure if it doesn’t already exist. The accommodation for everyone involved in construction comes next, and when hydro plant workers arrive, this frequently leads to the establishment or growth of a local hamlet or town. Additionally, the reservoir of the plant, such as the man-made lake, frequently attracts tourists to the nation and inspires the development of parks, boating, fishing, and hiking paths, among other amenities.
Offers further advantages to humanity
In addition to producing electricity, hydropower facilities can support irrigation during extended droughts. By draining marshy ground, building a dam over a body of water also aids in flood prevention or control. Rivers and man-made lakes can provide supply pure drinking and washing water. The sea dams, as a last megaproject, have the potential to dramatically increase power generation while mitigating the effects of climate change.
The majority of hydropower plants rely on regional resources found inside the state, ensuring that the state or nation doesn’t need to rely on foreign resources. Smaller areas, where there aren’t any water sources that can produce enough electricity, won’t experience this. However, this will be the case in the majority of locations where hydropower is a thing. Every nation has a real desire to be able to produce its own energy.
When it comes to the production of electricity, hydropower facilities are incredibly adaptable. Considering how recently they were constructed, the majority of them could jump from zero to their maximum production capacity in a matter of seconds. When compared to other methods of energy generation, the effort needed to produce more energy whenever it is needed is incredibly minimal. The same holds true for lowering energy output.
Negative aspects of hydropower plants
Now let’s discuss the drawbacks of hydropower plants:
Costly to implement
Hydropower facilities are extremely expensive to build even if they have a long lifespan. Additionally, they need an existing body of water, which is becoming increasingly rare as more plants are constructed. An artificial body of water may be made as an alternative, although this would require more money. Nevertheless, the capacity of hydroelectric facilities increases annually. Because hydropower projects are operated at the state level and aren’t subject to market fluctuations, construction creates more jobs. Long-term economic growth and energy output in the nation are benefited by this. In addition, part of the upfront costs are offset by the already-existing infrastructure, such as highways, tunnels, bridges, and dams.
Restricted by place
Hydropower facilities rely on the local hydrology in addition to locating a place with enough water. They are particularly susceptible to freezing temperatures and frequent droughts, such as a lack of precipitation, which severely diminish efficiency by limiting water flow or raising maintenance costs.
Negatively affects some living things
One of a hydropower plant’s benefits and drawbacks is its effect on nearby life. We highlighted the benefits for some living things, however altering the natural water flow alters fish migration routes, which causes some animals and insects to be displaced as well as some plants to die. People who depend on the river, fish, plants, or other creatures for their livelihood must move as a result.
Dam failures are frequent.
Dams are frequently referred to in the law as “installations that contain harmful forces.” The effects are almost cataclysmic if the dam or one of the hydroelectric systems fails, which is typically caused by carelessness, subpar engineering, or unplanned natural disasters. We will use the roughly 200 notable dam failures that occurred between 2000 and 2009 to illustrate our thesis. Floods that followed destroyed homes and plants, injured, killed, or drove people to migrate, and resulted in significant financial loss. For a deeper understanding, read more about the benefits and drawbacks of dams.
There are emissions from reservoirs.
Both advantages and downsides of hydropower plants relate to gas emissions. The facility is the only one where there is a dearth. However, over time, the vegetation at the bottom of reservoirs decomposes, releasing a significant amount of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming and the level of pollution in the world because the majority of the facilities rely on reservoirs.
This has two perspectives. In order to implement a hydroelectric plant, the stream’s water flow must be stopped or restricted. Which implies that it can lead to water scarcity in some areas that entirely depend on rivers for survival. On the other side, a lack of water due to climate change may have a detrimental effect on the plant’s ability to produce energy. Accordingly, depending on the quantity of rain they get and other comparable things, depending solely on hydropower may not be viable for certain places.