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Hydropower’s Power

Despite the increase in climate change awareness, in 2022, CO2 emissions, once again, reached an all time high at 417.06 ppm, or 36.8 billion tonnes. Starting in 2011, CO2 emissions have been increasing 2 ppm (Parts per million ) each year for 10 consecutive years, and 2022 made it the 11th (Lindsey 2023). What does burning of fossil fuels actually entail? When we burn fossil fuels, such as natural gas, petroleum and coal, we are releasing the carbon that plants took millions of years to absorb over the span of a couple hundred years (Lindsey, 2023). To further highlight Humanity’s hand in this, before the industrial revolution, CO2 concentrations were never above 300 ppm, even right after an ice age, when warming periods initiated. There is absolutely nothing ‘natural’ about the speeds at which carbon dioxide is being released (Linsey 2023).

According to the IEA , (International Energy Agency) emissions from natural gas fell by 1.6%, however the use of coal grew by 1.6% completely offsetting the reduction in fossil fuel use by natural gas. On the other hand, petroleum use grew by 2.6%. CO2 output, due to energy combustion, grew by 1.3 % in 2022 (IEA, 2022). The buildings sector was responsible for most of the increase in emissions growth, that is 8% since 2021, that the US saw in 2022. This was partly due to the need for cooling during unprecedented heat waves during the summer, another byproduct of climate change.

In order to reach the net carbon goals set forth by the Paris Agreement, we must further enforce a switch over to renewable energy sources. As of late, we are outputting more CO2 than ‘CO2 sinks’ (e.g. forests) can absorb (Linsey, 2023). One of the more promising ones is hydropower, a renewable energy source that uses running water to generate energy.

In 2022, the U.S received 13% of its energy from renewable energy sources, and 18% of that was from hydroelectric power. The goal, according to the 2023 World Hydropower Outlook, by the International Hydropower Associate (IHA) is to make hydropower “the predominant source of dispatchable electricity, contributing more than 40% of the annual electricity production…by 2050”.

According to the Office of Energy efficiency and Renewable Energy , there are three types of hydropower production; impoundment dams, diversion and pumped storage. First, the impoundment dam, as its name suggests, is a dam used to create a reservoir of water that is released into a turbine that spins in order to activate a generator that in turn generates electricity. Secondly, a diversion, which uses an elevated portion of a river to create energy by changing the direction of the flow of the river into a canal or penstock. Lastly, pumped storage, as the name suggests, is a means of storing energy by pumping water from a reservoir at a low elevation to one at a higher elevation. According to the IHA, pumped storage hydropower “…can be more cost effective, especially for very large capacity storage.” Compared to other forms of energy generation, hydropower often has a lower environmental impact. Additionally it is efficient and flexible. Efficient in the way it converts 90% of the flow through it into energy and flexible in the way that the flow of water through the dams can be adjusted to meet the demand of energy at different times.

Hydropower is an exemplary way of showing how we can live in conjunction with nature. Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite materials, hydropower is a renewable source because it relies on the Earth’s already flowing water. Given that it relies heavily on rainfall, and as climate change induces droughts, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is especially important to allow the continued use of hydropower.

image: https://www.power-technology.com/features/worlds-biggest-hydroelectric-power-plants/

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One Response

  1. I found your article to be quite informative! I was expecting water power to be more than 18% of the renewable energy we use. I believe that hydro-power isn’t as common because of the other renewable sources that are available. Examples of these include solar power and wind power which are more abundant and provide more energy than hydro-power. I was able to find an article called ConsumerAffairs which states that there’s been roughly 3.2 million homes in 2023. Additionally, USGS states that as of 2022 there’s about 70,800 wind turbines throughout the US. With sources of energy like these being readily available, I think there should be some more attention focused on water power. With hydro-power on track to be even more efficient by 2050, I feel it’s a worthwhile investment alongside solar power and wind power. It’s important to keep the effects of climate change in mind when approaching hydro-power as you stated. Although I think hydro-power can be extremely viable, if it’s implemented incorrectly it can backfire. If there’s one dam that relies on rain and suddenly there are droughts, that dam’s hydro-power wouldn’t be as effective as it could be. Hence, those in charge of implementing these dams must ensure they account for outside factors especially regarding climate change. I’m excited to see how hydro-power will evolve throughout the years and work in conjunction with other renewable energy sources. Overall, I found your article to be insightful and provided a lot of valuable information regarding hydro-power!




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