Powered By Water: 6 Pros And Cons Of Hydroelectric Energy

Dam water

The world has tapped into countless ways to generate power. And one of the most powerful engines of nature is water. To gain an understanding of how water can be used to generate electricity, you have to learn the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy.

Utilizing moving water is something that humankind has been doing throughout history. For centuries, people have used water to power mills for grinding grain and producing flour.

Hydroelectric energy is not a new concept in the United States. The average facility has been in operation for more than six decades. So you may have already seen massive amounts of water stored in dams in many parts of the country. Some dams have even become tourist spots.

Despite the many forms of renewable energy, including hydroelectric energy, the U.S. (as well as the rest of the world) currently prefers nuclear power plants and fossil fuels. Once you know the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, you may get a clearer picture of how millions of people can effectively utilize it.

What Is Hydroelectric Energy?

dam calm water

Image by jacopo cavalca from Pixabay

Before you assess the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, you first have to know what it is.


Hydroelectric power is a form of renewable energy. It is responsible for 96% of the United States’ total renewable energy. Other renewable energy sources that make use of water are tidal power and geothermal.

Without flowing water, there is no hydroelectric power. When water falls due to gravity, it powers generators and turbines that generate electricity.

What makes hydroelectric energy unique is it does not use additional resources to generate electricity. It also does not pollute water and land compared to other types of power plants.


Throughout the years, hydroelectric power generated in both large and small hydroelectric plants has played a significant role in the development of the world’s power industry.

There are many excellent books available to learn more about the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy in greater depth.

Importance Of Hydroelectric Energy

dam water environment

Image by extremis from Pixabay

Hydroelectric energy helps create, build, and expand resources. Over 40 percent of electric power produced in the 1920s came from hydroelectric plants.

Considering its successful history, you might think hydroelectricity now dominates electricity production globally. However, that is not the case. Although hydroelectric power has grown at a steady rate since its introduction, other sources of energy have surpassed it.

On the one hand, compared to other renewable sources of energy, hydropower is the most common in the world. Yet, hydroelectricity accounts for only 17 percent of total electricity production worldwide.

Hydroelectric power can also feature in small scale projects, but for industrial-scale use, it substantially lags behind fossil fuels.

Throughout the years, China has championed the use of hydroelectric energy. Also, Canada, Brazil, and the United States rank highly in hydroelectricity production.

Despite knowing the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, people still haven’t tapped into the vast potential of hydroelectricity production in meeting global needs. And there are still many areas left undeveloped, such as large parts of Asia, Central Africa, and Latin America.


To put this in perspective, the Bureau of Reclamation has 58 power plants in the U.S. today. These power plants produce more than enough power to meet the needs of 14 million people. This amount of energy is equivalent to 42 billion kilowatt-hours.

The astonishing fact is that 72 million barrels of oil are needed to produce this amount of energy. Considering this fact, hydroelectric power seems to be a more efficient method of energy production.

Projects also last longer compared to other types of energy generation. 

Hydroelectricity generation also fares well in responding to changing conditions.

How Does Hydroelectric Power Work?

Before you consider the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, you need to master the concept of how it works. As established in the previous section, hydroelectric power cannot be made without water in motion, just like how solar energy cannot produce electricity when there is no sun.

Energy cannot be created nor destroyed in nature. Energy simply changes its form. There is no new energy created using hydroelectric power plants. Another form of energy converts into electricity.

To generate power, water must move. This process is called kinetic energy. The water in motion turns the turbine’s blades, and the kinetic energy changes into mechanical energy. Then, energy is finally converted into electricity. Because the first source of energy is water, it is called hydroelectric power.

All hydroelectric power plants make hydropower. These plants are usually within dams. A dam stores a large volume of water to facilitate essential activities such as irrigation, industrial and domestic use, and power generation. The dams act as a reservoir that stores water in order to make power.

At a dam, water flows from a great height. A pipe transports the water to reach the turbine. Then, the fast-moving water pushes the blades of the turbine, which produces a movement that is similar to when a pinwheel comes in contact with the wind.


The water then turns the rotor of the generator. When the generator sweeps by the rotor’s wires, electricity forms. The water then flows unchanged so it can serve other purposes. This event happens when the demand for energy is low, such as in the middle of the night.

Aside from dams, there are also power plants located on canals, streams, and rivers.

Pros And Cons Of Hydroelectric Energy

Now you know how this type of energy forms. So next, we consider the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy to further our understanding.

Pros

Hydroelectric power features many incredible advantages.

Renewable and clean

Stable

Sustainable

Low operating cost

Can supply current demand

Has recreational and practical opportunities

Cons

Just like all sources of energy, hydroelectric power is not perfect. To complete your understanding of the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, take a look at some of the major drawbacks of using hydroelectric power.

Environmental damage

Flooding

Drought

Methane and carbon dioxide emission

Construction is expensive and complicated

Displacement

What Do You Think About Hydroelectric Energy?

Dam water flowing

Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

Hydroelectric energy is a double-edged sword. While dams can help many areas by generating power, dams can also be the cause of various challenges.


Now that you know the pros and cons of hydroelectric energy, you can determine whether or not it’s a viable idea to introduce in your area.


The best thing to do is to thoroughly analyze the local conditions and safety requirements, and ensure that the power plant would not affect the environment and local inhabitants.


Know of any other pros and cons of hydroelectric energy? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Featured Image: Photo by T L on Unsplash

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here