Although most environmental engineers will argue on what the most efficient means are for producing renewable energy, most will agree that there are clear incentives for switching from dependency on fossil fuels (Wiens, 2013). Within a mid-size rural/urban community of approximately 1 million inhabitants, the most efficient means of generating and managing energy is by harnessing the natural sources of Hydro-power. Traditional use of water has previously been limited to applications in agriculture and wheat grinding (Wiens, 2013). However, as multiple moving bodies of water (i.e. rivers), snake through various regions within the U.S., experts agree that untapped potential lies within our great bodies of water. Subsequently, this report will highlight the pros and cons of hydropower and state the rationale as to why this source of power is sustainable over long periods of time. In addition, a systematic overview will be presented to describe how a Hydroelectric Dam may be constructed and maintained to generate a substantial amount of power.
Reduction of Energy Consumption
Statistics indicate that the production of electricity accounts for more than 1/3 of U.S. global warming emissions (U.C.S. 2014). In order to mitigate the current impact, alternative energy sources such as hydroelectric power appear to be very promising. In comparison, electrical energy generated by hydro-powered technology have an output of carbon between 0.1-0.2lbs C02/kWh, while natural gas is between 0.6-2.0lbs (U.C.S, 2014). It is the hope of scientists that increasing the availability of hydropower would allow consumers to slowly change from natural gas dependency. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Energy eludes that if 80% of the U.S. dependency on natural gas shifted from natural gas to alternative sources such as hydropower, carbon emissions would be reduced by 81% (U.C.S, 2014). In order to assess the practicality of applying hydroelectric power on global scales, positive and negative considerations will be presented, as a means of determining the overall feasibility of truly shifting to this alternate energy source.
Positive Applications for Hydroelectric Power
Perhaps the most critical application of waterpower is the elimination of pollution. In contrast to fossil fuels and even ethanol based power sources, no significant amount water pollution and/or air pollution is associated with hydropower (Energy.gov, 2014). The source of energy is the conversion of mechanical/physical energy, which is housed in a powerhouse or immediately dispersed through power lines (Energy.gov, 2014). The energy generated by hydropower will be directly associated with the local water supply and its cycle. Due to the fact that the sun typically drives these sources of power, this is a reliable and renewable source of power. It is also much more affordable than fossil fuels, which face serious considerations for deletion. Furthermore, some un-noted benefits of using waterpower include; flood control, and irrigation (HydroPower, 2014).
Negative Applications of Hydroelectric Power
The primary consideration for implementing the use of hydroelectric power is limited to minor considerations. These include; a lack of historical evidence and cumulative operating issues (Energy.gov, 2014). It is important at this point to understand that while Hydroelectric power has been in use for hundreds of years, this technology has not been optimized and implemented on multiple-large scale platforms for producing primary sources of electricity (Energy, 2014). A few examples have been shown to be promising, however, issues regarding safety and pollution to sedimentary structures appears to be not fully understood (Energy, 2014). Hence, experts agree that whatever the long-term environmental costs are for implementation of waterpower will be, these considerations will be negligible. At this point one must take a chance and decide that the theoretical benefits are vast and the initial investment is not costly.
Considerations for Control to the Environment
A hydroelectric plant should be constructed directly on-top of a large and constantly moving, water source. However, engineers must consider the impact that the required dam may have on local fauna.
Controlling Mosquito Population and Disease Outbreak
Dams are usually responsible for altering the areas that they influence, especially regarding mosquito subpopulations anopheline, planorbidae, and phelobotomine. One assessment of the Rosal hydroelectric power station, in Brazil, indicates that the application of proper controls will mitigate any increase in the prevalence of these local fauna (Rezende et.al, 2009). Prior to constructing any plant, strategic sampling should occur and areas, which may be at risk for increased mosquito populations (which may lead to subsequent increased disease occurance) should be assessed. In addition, monitoring the facility impact to these organisms within the local fauna should occur regularly during its implementation and use (Rezende et.al, 2009).
Downstream Sediment Load
An additional consideration is the impact to sedimentation loads within downstream bodies of water. As a model, the Svartisen hydroelectric powerplant was monitored for sediment impact over a period of 12 years, up to 1995 (Bogen et.al, 2001). Scientists determined that there was a significant increase of 50% to 60% in downstream, suspended sediment (Bogen et.al, 2001). This increase in sediment led to a reduction of the depths of downstream water bodies, and an increase in overall turbidity.
Constructing and Maintaining A Hydroelectric Plant
The plant should be constructed in a similar manner as a dam, meaning that it should regulate the flow of water through an intake system, which is buffered by a reservoir. Water pressure may therefore be generated to enhance the yield of power as the intake may be located on the lower extremity of the reservoir wall. Water may feed into the intake system under regulated pressure, where it may then meet a turbine to generate mechanical energy. The kinetic energy can power a generator, which is located within a powerhouse, and/or be directly fed to the households of consumers (HydroPower, 2014).
Transportation and Energy Fields
It is also important to note that the use of Hydroelectricity may be limited in the field of transportation. Scientists indicate that there is untapped potential in which the use of grids may power electric cars, through hydropower (Environment and Energy, 2014). In the same manner in which this energy is converted from mechanical energy, the use of grids may allow for allocation in transportation based vehicles that are solely run on electrical power. Converting to mega-watt energy through pumped storage into ancillary grid is currently in use by over 2,000 companies in the U.S (Environment and Energy, 2014). The focus to incentivize hydropower for transportation models must correspond to its general use for translation into electrical grids.
Due to the fact that large-scale hydropower is untested in global applications, the engineering behind the construction and maintenance must be stringent, and well planned. Use of this alternative energy source for transportation will depend on its success in grid models. As considerations, impact to the local environment must be assessed initially and compliance to rigorous standards should be maintained. However, as the model Brazil indicates, applying the appropriate controls may yield a successful plant, which provides no impact to local fauna. A shift to this alternative energy source should be considered as U.S. Government energy assessments show a reduction of 81% in carbon output, if aggressive shifts of from natural gas to hydropower, (80% implementation) occur. Current estimates indicate that to power such a city a historical river, which is not linked to any risks for water shortage should be considered. In addition, the desired power source will function to attract tourists, if it may be determined to be effective, for long-term applications. As most commercial applications have been sparing, this source of power is untested but promising.
- Energy.gov. “Benefits of Hydropower.” Department of Energy. N.p., 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
- HydroPower. “Hydro Power – Generating electricity from river flow.” N.p., 2014. Web. http://www.alternative-energy-news.info
- Wiens, C. “The Experts: What Renewable Energy Source Has the Most Promise?”Wallstreet Journal 17 Apr. 2013: n. pag. Print.
- Bogen, J., & Bønsnes, T. E. (2001). The impact of a hydroelectric power plant on the sediment load in downstream water bodies, Svartisen, northern Norway. Science of The Total Environment.
- Energy.gov. (2014). History of Hydropower | Department of Energy. Retrieved from http://energy.gov
- Environment and Energy Study Institute. (2014). Renewable Gas, Hydropower, and Geothermal: What is the role of these often overlooked renewable resources? | Briefing | EESI. Retrieved from http://www.eesi.org
- Rezende, H. R. (2009). [Effects of the installation of the Rosal hydroelectric power station, Itabapoana River, States of Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro, on anophelinae, planorbidae and phlebotominae]. Rev Soc Bras Med Trop, 42(2), 160-164.
- Union of Concerned Scientists. (2014). Benefits of Renewable Energy Use | Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org