Hydropower is one of the most effective renewable resources of energy that has been developed to date. It has been used for thousands of years in a variety of ways: to mill grain, create lumber, or power the device you’re using to read this content. Once the generation matrix is in place, it doesn’t create any air pollution and there aren’t any toxic byproducts. Here are some more interesting facts about hydroelectricity to enjoy.
1. Around Since 1881 In the US
Niagara Falls became the location of the first hydroelectric generation facility in the US. Charles Bush created hydroelectricity by connecting a generator to turbines that the falls powered. This allowed for nighttime lighting that could be enjoyed by visitors to the area. Just a year later in 1882, a facility in Appleton, WI would provide the first commercially viable hydroelectricity to homes and businesses in the area.
The history of hydroelectric power, however, dates all the way back to the height of the Greek civilization. They used dams to help irrigate crops and provide power for food production.
2 Popular All Over
All 50 states in the US use some form of hydroelectricity for their grid today. Almost a dozen states have at least 10% of their total power come from hydroelectricity. The state of Washington, however, leads the way in this renewable resources. Over 70% of that state’s power is generated through the use of hydroelectric turbines. From a nationwide perspective, however, just 7% of the total power that is on the grid at any given time comes from hydroelectric plants.
With 2,400 sites that include places like Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls, it’s hard to believe that neither is the largest production site of hydroelectric power in the US. That honor belongs to Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, which has 33 generators operating.
3. It’s Super Cheap
If you’re tired of paying high electrical bills, then you’ve got to move to the Pacific Northwest. The initial costs of hydroelectricity are higher than traditional forms of generation, but only until the construction costs are paid off. With the established infrastructure that Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have in place, you’ll pay less per kilowatt hour there than you will in any other location in the United States today.
4. Highly Adaptable
Because power is created based on the flow of water, the amount of power that can be generated per turbine can be controlled very effectively. Power resources can be added to the grid very rapidly when needed just by increasing the flow of water through the facility. This provides a critical back-up power solution to many areas of the world should they be affected by blackout conditions for some reason.
5. Environmentally Friendly
If engineers were to just stick a dam in the middle of the river, then it could disrupt the natural habitat of the region. That’s why ladders and other bypasses are included with modern dam designs so that there is access upstream and downstream for local sea and wildlife when it is needed. This keeps migration patterns in place and still allows the local human population to benefit from the affordability that hydroelectricity is able to provide.
6. A Lot of Potential
In a recent survey of hydroelectric power capabilities that was conducted by the US government, it was found that only 3% of the dams in the country are generating power. If turbines were added to all existing dams and then connected to the grid, an additional 12 megawatts of power could be created using these existing resources.
7. Massive Scales
The state of Washington might be impressive from a US perspective, but it has nothing on some other locations in the world today. In Norway, for example, more than 99% of the electricity that is produced comes from hydropower. New Zealand as a nation has more than 75% of its power come from hydroelectricity. If other countries are able to produce this level of power through a renewable resource, then more countries can do this as well.
The key to having this happen is the efficiency of hydroelectricity. When turbines create energy because of the flowing water that gravity creates, more than 90% of the available energy which is produced can be converted into usable electricity. In comparison, only about 50% of the available energy from fossil fuels can be turned into electrical power.
8. Stability In a Crisis
Because no fossil fuels are used after the power facility becomes live, there aren’t the same economic influences that can change the cost of hydroelectricity. Instead of unstable fuel costs or rising inflation, many facilities can produce power for less than one cent per kilowatt hour, creating a profit margin of nearly 100% and it is still cheaper than fossil fuel power despite the higher profit margins.
It is so stable, in fact, that between 1985-1990, the costs of hydroelectricity were growing at a slower pace than the rate of inflation grew.
9. Forgotten But Not Gone
In the average US budget cycle of 10 years, about $1 billion is spent on researching new alternatives to fossil fuel power generation. Researchers are looking at everything from geothermal plants to the development of wind power. Only $10 million – just $1 million per year – is spent on the development of hydroelectric facilities even though it is a proven and affordable technology that produces virtually zero emissions once a plan goes live.
Imagine what could happen even if just for one year the resource allotments were reversed. It could have a profound effect on the US economy without changing the tax structure at all.
10. Multiple Benefits
Hydroelectricity is only one benefit that comes from the installation of a dam on a useful waterway. 12% of dams in the US are used to reinforce the public water supply. 35% of dams have had recreational facilities installed around them as their primary purpose. 15% of dams were built solely for flood control. When it comes to renewable energy on the power grid, almost 98% of it comes from hydroelectric facilities right now. Add in these other benefits that dams provide and it is easy to see why it could be a useful investment for many communities.
Hydroelectricity could change how we look at how power is generated if it would only be given a higher priority in many communities. The investment into this power generation source is something that will easily pay for itself over time, cause less overall pollution of the environment, and still support the needs of the modern infrastructure of industrialized and developing nations. If you have a choice, choose hydroelectricity and you’ll be doing a small part to help the rest of the world.