In this age of renewable, green energy, one type has been left behind in the quest to find the best green energy source. Hydropower is the oldest of green energy sources, having been utilized through dams for about 100 years. The Hoover dam can provide irrigation for 2 million acres and produce electricity for 1.3 million households. This dam is just one of many in the country, though only a small amount of them are currently being used to produce electricity.
Hydropower remains the fourth biggest electricity source in the country, while it is also the nation’s largest renewable energy source, providing electricity to 6% of the households in the United States. Jose Zayas, who works for the Department of Energy, specializing in Wind and Water Power Technologies, believes “that substantial growth is possible in the sector” and improvements can be made to many of the current dams that aren’t producing electricity.
The hydropower industry currently produces about 101 gigawatts of electricity. Researchers estimate that this number could rise an additional 50% by 2050. Only 2,000 of the nearly 80,000 dams in the country actually produce hydropower. If those dams were properly outfitted with the technology to produce electricity, hydropower would provide power for possibly millions of homes. While not all of those dams could be adapted to produce electricity, many of them have the potential, while some of the older dams already producing hydropower could be updated and made even more efficient.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to using dams to produce hydropower. Many people oppose the idea of using dams to produce power, because dams often cause significant damage to the environments surrounding them. Dam construction tears up the ground and foliage in the area, while redirecting or stopping a river leads to damaged habitats for various species and usually interrupts fish migration patterns, sometimes severely harming endangered animals.
While these concerns are all extremely valid, hydropower is still much better for the environment than burning fossil fuels. Tara Moberg, a freshwater scientist for The Nature Conservancy, believes there are great possibilities for hydropower to improve and be used, but it must be handled in a sustainable way that recognizes the possible harm reckless development of dams can cause.
Many advocates of hydropower are still hopeful that a solution or compromise can be reached. An instance of such compromise was on the Penobscot River in Maine. Older dams were removed, while other dams were updated with modern technology that caused higher production of electricity. This option is one that can be considered for other dams across the country, but “hydroelectric pumped storage” is also a realistic possibility. In this method, water is pumped to a high location and stored for the later option of flowing downhill, which would then produce power. Pumped storage is available for immediate power when it is needed.
The future of hydropower seems a promising one. Instead of constructing new dams and potentially harming the environment, it’s important to focus on updating older dams. Researchers also believe that the advancement of hydropower would benefit solar and wind energy.