What Are the Disadvantages of Hydroelectric Energy?


Today, our world relies mostly on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas in order to power cars, homes, appliances, and much more. But because of the sometimes instability of the fossil fuel industry and the environmental concerns of using too much coal, oil, and natural gas, some countries are turning to hydroelectric energy.  

Proponents of hydroelectric energy say favor it for a number of reasons. But it turns out that are numerous negative consequences of relying on hydroelectric energy. First, before diving into the disadvantages of hydroelectric energy, it’s important to learn what it’s all about.  

What Is Hydroelectric Energy?  

Hydroelectric energy, an alternative source of energy, is natural and involves using the power of moving water in order to generate energy and electricity. It is operated through a large dam, which is a reservoir of water. The dam contains tunnels, where the water passes through. When the water flows through, it creates energy and turns turbines. These turbines are hooked up to generators, and that energy is converted into electrical energy. 

Around the globe, hydroelectric energy is the biggest source of renewable energy. It is also emissions-free and has been used for generations by different populations. There are four different categories of hydroelectric technologies, which are conventional (dams), run-of-the-river, offshore marine (tidal), and pumped-storage.   

Hydroelectric energy is dependent upon rivers and streams, so states like Washington and Oregon, for example, are known to generate more hydroelectric energy than places without easy access to water.  

In 1882, the first hydroelectric power plant was constructed in 1882 in the town of Appleton, Wisconsin. Since 1970, hydroelectric capacity throughout the globe has more than doubled. Today, it accounts for one-sixth of the electricity production in the world.  

In the United States, as of 2015, there were more than 1,400 hydroelectric dams that generate 7 percent of the electricity in the nation, according to Visual Capitalist. The average hydroelectric facility has been operating for 64 years.  

What Are the Advantages of Hydroelectric Energy?   

There are many advantages of hydroelectric energy, which is why the U.S. and countries around the globe have chosen to utilize it.  

Hydroelectric energy is renewable because it takes water from the earth and recycles it once it’s done using it. It is a green and alternative source of energy, so no greenhouse gases are emitted when it’s in use. Hydropower dams are inexpensive to run once they’re installed, and they can last for 50 to 100 years, making them cost-competitive with other energy sources. Plus, they are flexible, so they can be built up or scaled down as needed. 

In addition, there are many economic advantages of hydroelectric energy. If hydropower plants are built in remote and/or rural areas, it can help attract people and jobs. These plants can power not just residential communities, but industries as well. This could also be appealing to industries looking for cheap real estate, and help bolster a community in need. In terms of the environment, hydroplants can hold a lot of water, so they can help stave off flooding.  

Despite the pros of this source of alternative energy, there are also many disadvantages of hydroelectric energy to watch out for, especially if you’re considering investing in it.   

What Are the Disadvantages of Hydroelectric Energy?   

For all the hype about hydropower and its advantages, there are also many disadvantages of hydroelectric energy that must be taken into consideration. They include the following:  

Negative environmental impacts 

Hydroelectric energy is a green alternative to fossil fuel energy, however, it still has an environmental impact. Hydro plants change the flow of water, increase the temperature of the water, and are highly disruptive to fish habitats. Aquatic birds like cranes live in marshy habitats, which can be destroyed by hydropower plants. If the fish are no longer in their habitats, the birds have nothing to feed on. The damage caused by these plants can have a detrimental effect on the entire animal food chain surrounding them. Animals either have to adapt, move, or die. 

Huge cost when it comes to construction 

While hydropower plants may be cheaper to maintain than other sources of energy, one of the major cons is that they are very expensive to build. It takes $20 billion and 18 years, on average, to complete just one dam. This huge investment may be one of the disadvantages of hydroelectric energy for the communities where they are located and the companies looking to build them.  

Droughts can negatively impact dams 

Another one of the disadvantages of hydroelectric energy is that it is dependent upon water. But if there are droughts, the water dries up, and no more power can be created. California, a state that produces a huge amount of hydroelectric energy for the United States, goes through droughts year after year. As global warming gets worse, droughts are going to become ever more frequent around the globe, making it increasingly difficult to harness this alternative energy. 

Dam communities may suffer 

Communities surrounding the hydropower dams might benefit from them at first, but they also are faced with the risk of flooding. Strong water currents from the dams can flood the communities they’re in and cause them to have to relocate. In addition, communities that are already suffering from a lack of water will not fare well if a dam is built. Over the past six decades, 40 to 80 million people worldwide have had to leave their homes because of dams. This especially applies to tribal and indigenous communities, who are vulnerable because they don’t have as much economic power as more developed nations. They can become dam refugees and end up having nowhere to go.  

Limited space to build the dams 

Hydropower dams have already been built in many places around the world. They need to be constructed in places with the ideal conditions for them, like Oregon, Washington, and California. There isn’t much space left on which to build them, so this alternative energy source can’t progress much further than it already has. The only way it could grow would be if there was a way to generate hydroelectric energy without the huge, expensive dams.  

Hydro plants are also polluting 

While dams are supposed to be safer and cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources, it’s been shown that they do pollute. Plant material in areas that have flooded decompose and release significant amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. This may lead to a boost in pollution levels and contribute to global warming. 

Dams can be extremely dangerous 

Dams can cause huge disasters and lead to the loss of many lives. In 1975, when the Banqiao Reservoir Dam failed, it led to an estimated 230,000 deaths. Eleven million people were displaced as well. A huge amount of water, which was the equivalent of 300,000 Olympic swimming pools, erupted through the dam. In one night, 62 dams burst. While they may have some environmental benefits, the disadvantages of hydroelectric energy can be deadly.  


Investing in Hydroelectric Energy 

While you want to be at the forefront of emerging energy investments, you also want to make sure that you’re investing wisely. Before putting your money into hydroelectric energy, you need to weigh the pros and cons.  

Remember: Fossil fuel energy still reigns supreme, even though it sometimes gets a bad rap. And hydropower may be discussed in a positive light, but it can have just as many disadvantages as fossil fuel energy sources.  

Do your research and decide what’s best for you. As always, stay on top of the news and turn to reliable sources for information. Continue reading up on the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric energy and fossil fuel energy before you make any financial decisions.  

As the world looks to becoming more environmentally friendly, a mix of fossil fuel energy and hydroelectric energy may just be the answer. By taking the best aspects of each, society can figure out a way to get the energy it needs to survive and thrive on a daily basis, as well as contribute to the sustainability of the planet.

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