It is not the wind or the sun, but rather water that is the most reliable source of renewable energy on the planet. The capacity of the world’s hydroelectric systems hit a new high of 1,308 gigawatts in the previous year (to put this number in perspective, just one gigawatt is equivalent to the power produced by 1.3 million race horses or 2,000 speeding Corvettes).
Utility companies all over the world rely on hydropower to generate electricity because it is inexpensive, can be easily stored and dispatched, and is produced without the combustion of any fuel. This means that hydropower will not release carbon dioxide or other pollutants, unlike power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. Hydropower is produced with no fuel combustion.
However, there is a cost to the environment associated with hydropower, just as there is with other forms of energy. Hydropower can wreak havoc on native aquatic animals and the ecosystems in which they are found, in addition to having a dramatic impact on ecosystems as a result of the diversion and damming of large waterways.
The vast majority of watersheds throughout the world are in a state of severe deterioration, with contaminated waterways and antiquated technology. Some of these watersheds have been using hydropower for more than a century. Because traditional reservoirs are typically still bodies of water, they are commonly the sites of harmful algal blooms, also known as HABs.
HABs are dangerous to people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. Traditional reservoirs are also referred to as “dry reservoirs.” Large hydro dams can be a fish-killing environment in addition to having a dramatic impact on the flow of the waterway. The swiftly revolving blades of the turbines have the potential to sever them as well as block their path of migration.
In the event that the fish are able to navigate their way around the blades, rapid shifts in pressure and shear stresses may be fatal to them as they travel through the turbine. Engineers have been looking into the possibility of changing the future of hydropower by developing turbines that are safe for fish.
The California-based startup Natel Energy has collaborated with the investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to develop a new type of turbine with rounded edges that helps more fish to survive. In addition to preserving fish populations, the primary objective of Natel’s turbine is to produce climate-resilient hydropower that is robust enough to resist the unpredictability of precipitation patterns.
Because hydropower plants may begin generating electricity for the grid almost instantly, they are a crucial source of backup power amid significant disruptions or blackouts of the electrical supply (water power has in fact been in high demand during the Covid-19 crisis, as electricity generation has been little affected due to the degree of automation in modern facilities).
If you want to read more about renewable resources, here’s an article about how to invest in renewable energy.