Hydro Power–Go With the Flow for Clean Energy

March 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, Hydro Energy

Water, water everywhere…Did you know that about 70% of the earth’s surface is water? If it were possible to use our planet’s amplest resource to power our homes and our cities, we would never have to worry about running out. The good news is that water has been used to produce power for centuries. In fact, before electricity, hydropower ran mills and machines through the use of the paddle wheel. It comprises almost 75% of all renewable energy use in the United States today. And there are more and more applications of hydropower in research and development for the future.

Along with being completely renewable because of our plentiful resources, hydropower also allows us to generate power without pollution or waste. To be fair, some environmentalists have concerns with possible changes to natural habitats around hydropower plants. For example, the creation of the Hoover Dam disrupted spawning grounds and upset the upstream migration of salmon. Dams can harm river ecology, including native vegetation and fish because it changes the physical and chemical dynamics of the habitat. However, the problems can be addressed by mitigating harmful effects, such as by barging young salmon around dams.

Though it may seem complicated, hydropower works somewhat similarly to wind power. Water movement through a pipe generates power to push blades, which spin to produce electricity. This system can be run on rivers by using the force of the current for power. Or it can work through a dam system, as with the Hoover Dam. With this system, water pools in a reservoir because of the dam and is released as electricity is required.

The use of hydropower isn’t confined to rivers. The mighty ocean’s power can be put to use through such applications as tidal stream power, tidal and wave power systems. In areas with a wide tidal range between outgoing and incoming tides, tidal power turbines can work to generate electricity. Tidal power systems like this have been in use since the 1960s, and have been continually used since then in France. Tidal stream power works somewhat the same, but uses energy from continuous currents. It is a newer technology that is in the research stage and shows great promise.

Wave power, also in the research stage and showing promise, may have even greater potential for generating power than the tides. Devices to harness wave power can either float on the waves or be turned by the waves when air is displaced. Attempts have been made to harness wave power since 1890, but we still haven’t reached the ability to develop widespread commercial use of the technology.

Without a doubt, hydropower appears to be a promising source of energy for the future, as it is renewable, sustainable, and can generate power without pollution or waste. Although there are ecological concerns with interruption to life around hydropower plants, research is still being done to find ways to mitigate those problems. All in all, it just might hold the key for our planet’s energy production needs well into the future.