Ben Brading 6 min read

What is Hydropower?

Protecting the environment is imperative. Businesses are always looking for ways to become more sustainable and do their part to reduce the overall impact on the environment.

In this guide, we look in detail at what Hydropower is and the advantages of using Hydropower.

What is Hydropower?

Hydropower is the process of harnessing the flow of water to produce sustainable energy.

The simplest form of hydropower originated in ancient Greece, where a water wheel was used to generate power that grinds grain. Hydropower is now the single largest renewable energy source despite these humble beginnings, with over 20,000 hydropower stations operating worldwide.

Large hydroelectricity plants, such as the hoover dam, produce a very cheap source of electricity that does not create any greenhouse gases.

How does hydropower work?

The basic principle of a hydroelectric dam is to use the kinetic energy stored in fast-flowing rivers to drive an electricity-generating turbine. The hydropower process converts the naturally occurring kinetic energy in rivers into electricity.

The hydroelectric dam is the most common form of hydropower station. A dam is constructed across a river that backs up the water to create a reservoir. Once filled, the reservoir behind the dam is much higher than the river in front of the dam.

When electricity is required, the dam will release a certain amount of water from the top of the reservoir to drive a turbine that produces electricity.

Another form of hydroelectric generation is a run-of-river plant that doesn’t require a dam and simply uses the energy contained in a fast-flowing river to drive turbines.

Is hydropower renewable?

Yes, hydropower is a renewable energy source as there are no greenhouse gas emissions associated with hydroelectric generation.

In a gas-fired power plant, natural gas is burnt to produce steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. This process causes vast amounts of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. In contrast, hydroelectric power has no associated greenhouse emissions.

Hydropower generation does have one environmental downside. The construction of large dams produce reservoirs that put a vast area of land underwater, destroying its natural ecology.

The three gorges dam in China is the world’s largest power station producing vast amounts of renewable hydroelectricity. However, at full capacity, the reservoir created by the dam covers an area greater than 400 square miles, displacing both natural and human habitats.

What are the advantages of hydropower?

As well as being a vast source of renewable energy, hydroelectric power, in the right circumstances, is cheaper than traditional fossil fuel-based power generation. The US states that produce most of their power from hydroelectricity, like Idaho, Washington and Oregon, have the most affordable electricity costs.

Important hydropower facts in the UK

The most significant limitation of hydroelectric power is geography. It’s necessary to have fast flowing rivers surrounded by hills to produce hydroelectric power on a large scale. As such, most of the UK’s hydropower generation comes from the mountainous regions of Wales and Scotland.

Hydropower contributes approximately 2% of the UK’s overall power generation, but due to the lack of suitable sites, expansion of hydropower generation is unlikely to occur at a large scale.

Instead, small scale community-led hydroelectric generators are increasingly common due to increased public awareness around climate change.

Green energy tariffs

Businesses can benefit from renewable energy by switching to a green electricity tariff. In a green tariff, your business electricity supplier will purchase energy on your behalf from renewable sources such as hydroelectric power plants.

Use our business energy comparison tool to compare business gas or compare business electricity.

Sustainable sources of water

Hydropower is an example of how water can be harnessed to make renewable energy.

At AquaSwitch, we help businesses get more from their water supply, including being more environmentally friendly. We help companies to compare commercial water suppliers, including those that offer green tariffs. Compare the market and switch business water supplier today.

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