Many differing opinions exist on what needs to be done about our current status of conserving energy and conserving our environment. With increased gas prices and energy costs, consumers are more aware of what benefits are available and the methods of obtaining them. The introduction of hydropower has been a major step for some, while a stumbling back for others. Advocates for hydropower have provided much information about the many benefits that we reap from using hydroelectric dams. Environmental activists denounce the many negatives that are created by the numerous dams located throughout the United States as well as other countries. Both sides present valid arguments and need to be addressed in order to fully understand the complex social, biological, political, and economic pros and cons.
Dams operate by using water as its main source of power. They produce power from fast volumes of moving water that turns a generator. This falling water at one gallon of water per second, can create one kilowatt of electrical power if it falls one hundred feed. When water behind a dam is released, it runs through a pipe called a penstock, which then delivers it to the turbine. Different shapes are used on these turbines, but are generally created to harness kinetic force of the moving water as well as the water pressure.
Another use of hydropower is pumped storage. In pumped storage plants, water is pumped from low resevoirs to a higher reservoir during off peak times, using electricity from different types of generators.Operators release it back into the lower reservoir through turbines if power is needed. Some power is initially lost, but pumped storage systems can be about 80 percent efficient.Sometimes it’s important to meet power demands where hydro plants have an advantage in their abilities when they also have reservoirs. Most plants may only produce hydro power all the time and can’t be adjusted when it comes to wanting more power in times of need. Whereas hydro plants with dams save up the water and allow it to flow only during peak times. These peak times can be beneficial to whitewater enthusiasts, but can also inhibit fishing opportunities because of the increased water flow.
The United States is one of the largest producers of hydropower in the world, second only to China. Hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable electricity in the world and in the United States. Hydropower also provides one-fifth of the worlds electricity, following closely behind fossil fuels. It isn’t strip mined, there are no radioactive emissions, and no possibility of meltdowns. It has taken advantage of natures offerings and developed a clean, renewable, and available source of energy. In terms of total production, hydropower is Americas leading renewable energy resource, and produces the energy equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil per year. By generating carbon-free electricity, hydropower can also avoid burning fossil fuels and releasing an amount of carbon dioxide that equals the annual exhaust of 61 million passenger cars or half of the cars on U.S. roads. It’s more reliable, efficient, and less expensive then geothermal, biomass, wind and solar energy. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by a hydropower plant, only about .6 cents is needed to support its operation and maintenance. In nuclear and coal plants, kilowatts per hour are around 2.2 cents/kWh and 2.1 cents/kWh, obviously favoring the much cheaper method of energy production of hydropower.