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Advantages & Disadvantages of Hydropower [Complete Guide]

July 22, 2022
By John Cole

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Hydropower refers to harnessing the natural flow of water to generate electricity. According to the Department of Energy, hydropower accounts for 31.5% of renewable power generation. In addition, just over 6% of power generated in the U.S. comes from hydroelectricity.

Today, more and more U.S. consumers want to “go green” and use renewable energy sources when possible. In turn, you might wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of hydropower. Also, you might wonder if it’s safe and sustainable and better than solar power. To help answer these issues, check out some pros and cons of hydroelectricity.

Hydroelectric dam

What is Hydropower, and Where Does It Come From?

Before discussing the pros and cons of hydroelectricity, note some added details about where it comes from. Hydroelectricity works by directing water flow through an elevation, taking advantage of the force of water as it moves.

For example, the Hoover Dam harnesses the power of a strong river that runs behind it. The dam forces that water through pipes. As the water flows, it turns the blades of a large turbine. Then, that turbine turns a shaft that rotates magnets past copper coils. Lastly, that magnetic field running over the copper produces usable electricity.

While the Hoover Dam might be one of the largest examples of hydroelectricity production, it’s not the only one! Smaller facilities around the United States also harness the power of flowing water to generate electricity. In fact, over 60% of the electricity in Washington state comes from hydropower.

Pros and Cons of Hydropower

First, note that hydropower is renewable, meaning that there is no risk of running out of water! Second, hydropower doesn’t produce fumes, emissions, or pollutants. Also, experts consider hydroelectricity a reliable power source with little risk of interruptions. In turn, it’s often considered an excellent backup during power outages and blackouts.

Also, note that properly planned hydroelectricity plants also work to control erosion and flooding risks. Harnessing hydropower properly also helps with irrigation and water control in various areas. Consequently, you can enjoy clean, green power and a healthier environment!

Moreover, planning and building hydroelectricity facilities create jobs for designers, installers, and those who monitor the location. Secondary industries such as housing and stores also benefit from a facility in their area. Above all, maintaining a hydroelectricity system is often cheaper than other facilities for lower energy costs.

On the downside, some hydroelectricity plants risk environmental damage. Building large dams might increase earthquake risks while also disrupting the surrounding ecosystem. Also, larger hydroelectric facilities can displace local communities as developers buy that land. Redirecting water through these systems can impact area farmlands and other businesses, risking droughts and soil erosion on their property.

Additionally, damage to these facilities can have a tremendous impact on surrounding areas. Vandalism or poor maintenance might risk a burst dam and, in turn, severe flooding of low-lying areas. While enhanced security helps reduce this risk, it also adds to the cost of running a hydropower plant.

A solar farm where hydro power isn't available.

Why is Solar Power Better Than Hydropower?

Solar power is quickly gaining popularity as a green energy source in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that solar will account for 5% of electricity generated in 2022. This is up from 3% in 2020. No doubt, more and more consumers are choosing solar due to its many advantages, including:

  • Solar provides a reliable energy source with little risk of failure. A solar panel system needs little to no maintenance and few repairs over the years. It also works silently.
  • Residential and commercial solar power systems produce no pollutants as they operate.
  • Solar is fully renewable. This refers to energy sources that aren’t depleted over time and don’t need replenishing. In short, the world will never run out of solar power!
  • In many cases, a solar panel installation improves or increases property values.
  • Since solar installation is very labor-intensive, investing in solar creates jobs and stimulates your local economy.
  • Solar panels offer some protection to roofs against damage, blocking harsh sunlight and inclement weather.

While solar power provides an excellent energy source, it is not without its disadvantages! One drawback to solar is that it’s often expensive to install. Two, solar panels need removing before contractors can address roof repairs.

Also, solar panels depend on lots of direct sunlight. In turn, they don’t generate much electricity during wintertime or in areas known for cloudy, overcast weather. Moreover, some property owners might find that solar doesn’t save them enough on their power bills to justify their cost.

Is Hydropower More Reliable Than Wind?

Wind power is a popular energy source in the United States, its electricity production exceeding hydropower in 2019. However, wind power doesn’t necessarily offer the same reliability as hydropower. One reason for this is that dams and manmade rivers can force water to run in various directions. Two, wind turbines need open, windy areas to operate.

On the other hand, drought especially affects hydropower facilities and their energy output. Even the Hoover Dam produces less power than previously, dropping from 4.5 billion kilowatt hours of energy to 3.5. Also, licensing for a hydropower plant often requires millions of dollars and years of work. In turn, there is less investment in hydropower than wind power in many areas.

Above all, hydroelectricity and wind power are not typically options for private property owners! Consequently, many homeowners and business owners find that solar is the best choice for green energy on their property.

Green Energy Geeks is happy to bring you this information about hydropower, and we hope you found it helpful! If you’re interested in learning more about clean, green energy, give us a call. Our team is always standing by, ready to schedule a home energy audit and evaluation. Also, we can explain current incentives for green energy options in your area, including federal and state tax credits. We’re also happy to share with you all the latest news about energy-saving options for your home or business. Whatever your needs or interests when it comes to clean, renewable, green energy, contact us today!

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