Hydropower is a renewable energy source that uses the power of flowing water to generate electricity. Although hydropower has been around since ancient times, its use has significantly increased in recent years as more countries look for cleaner sources of renewable energy.
By harnessing water flow, hydropower converts the natural kinetic energy into mechanical energy, which is used to spin a hydro turbine or group of hydro turbines that generate electricity.
Modern hydropower is a clean, renewable energy source that does not emit any greenhouse gases and has the potential to generate large amounts of power in a relatively short amount of time. Installing new hydropower systems does require significant upfront expenditure but, once operational, can deliver dramatic energy cost savings in the long term.
In this blog, we explore the world of modern hydropower systems, the advantages and disadvantages of hydropower, its environmental impact, and what the future holds for one of the oldest methods of generating power.
Once a hydropower system has converted the kinetic energy of water flow into mechanical energy and begun generating electricity, the electricity is sent to a power grid, where it is distributed to homes and businesses.
Modern hydropower systems can be compact and installed within smaller bodies of moving water or large in scale, such as hydroelectric energy plants. In both cases, the process of converting the kinetic energy of moving water into usable electricity is the same.
The only difference between the two systems relates to the size of the turbines, generators and other components. Moreover, the size of the river, lake or stream also affects the system’s efficiency, as larger bodies of water typically produce more energy than smaller ones. With advancements in technology, modern hydropower systems can now be used to generate electricity with more efficiency and much reduced environmental impact.
The most common types of hydropower systems are impulse turbines, reaction turbines, and pumped storage systems.
Impulse turbines use the force of the water flow to spin a turbine which is connected to a hydro generator. The hydro generator then generates electricity.
Reaction turbines are more complex and rely on the pressure as well as the flow of water to spin the turbine and generate electricity.
Pumped storage systems use electricity to pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir and then use the released water to spin the turbine and generate more electricity. Pumped storage systems are often used to store large amounts of energy for later use.
For businesses, the Vortex Turbine is emerging as the number one hydropower system of choice. A next-generation, hydrodynamic system designed to operate constantly for 30 years, the Vortex is able to withstand any type of flood and is protected by multiple sealing systems against fresh and saltwater debris and sand.
The turbines themselves can also be configured to perform against a range of head and flow combinations, with each one capable of generating between 120.000 and 56.000 kWh per year.
To understand how hydroelectricity works, it’s important to understand the various components that make up a typical system.
The main component in larger systems is a reservoir (a large body of water held in place by a dam that holds water back and directs its flow). The water is then diverted through a pipe, known as a penstock, to a turbine which is driven by the force of the flowing water, causing it to spin.
The spinning turbine is connected to a generator, which in turn produces electricity that is distributed through a power grid.
Hydropower has the potential to become a widespread renewable energy source as it’s both cost-effective and reliable. It is also one of the few renewable energy sources that does not produce any air or water pollution, making it a compelling option for businesses looking for a clean energy source. As a renewable energy, hydropower is abundant and can be easily harnessed, producing zero greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants harmful to the environment.
For businesses that cannot afford interruptions to their workflows, hydropower is both highly reliable and flexible as river flows are generally consistent and predictable, and the amount of power produced can be adjusted to meet different demand levels.
With the right investments and research, hydropower is well-placed to form part of a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. The cost of systems is also likely to decrease in the coming years as more efficient and effective technologies are developed.
Though a clean and renewable energy source, hydropower can still have an environmental impact. The construction of dams and reservoirs can alter the natural flow of rivers and streams, potentially displacing communities living in the area.
If it is not adequately managed, hydropower can also disrupt aquatic ecosystems and lead to loss of habitat for fish and other wildlife. Reducing the environmental impact of hydropower thus depends on ensuring proper management practices are in place.
While the long-term cost savings are undeniable, hydropower requires a sizeable upfront investment, particularly for the construction of the dams and reservoirs larger systems require.
Hydropower is also limited in its geographic availability and can only be installed in areas with a combination of water and topography conducive to generating electricity consistently.
Hydropower offers various benefits that can help improve a business’s bottom line. One of the leading business benefits of hydropower is cost savings. As a renewable energy source, hydropower saves businesses from worrying about the unpredictable costs associated with traditional energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
Boosting the cost-effective credentials of hydropower is its ability to generate electricity without the need to invest in expensive backup generators, while providing businesses with a steady, consistent supply of energy that can help improve operational efficiency and further reduce overheads.
The installation of hydropower systems also creates fertile ground on which to:
Launch effective PR campaigns: As customers become ever more environmentally conscious, they are beginning to favour those businesses able to demonstrate real sustainability. The installation of a hydropower system can be used in marketing materials to do just this.
Attract investment: Investors are increasingly looking to environmentally sustainable businesses for large-scale investments. The cost of a hydropower system could be dwarfed by the potential injection of cash from a suitably impressed private equity firm.
Recruit talent: Much like customers, employees are becoming drawn to businesses with a track record of environmental responsibility. Here, a hydropower system could be used as a tool to attract and retain the best talent.
The environmental benefits provided by hydropower are numerous and undisputed. By utilising hydropower, businesses can reduce emissions and thus their carbon footprint by harnessing energy from an abundant and renewable energy source.
Hydropower is a clean, reliable, and renewable energy source that is replenished naturally and can generate electricity without burning fuel. This means that businesses can generate power without contributing to the global carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
With no need to mine for fuel or drill for oil and gas, wildlife and natural habitats are protected, and no hazardous waste is created, only to be dumped in nearby ecosystems. By utilising hydropower, businesses can not only reduce their own overall carbon footprint but also contribute to the goal of a net-zero future for all.
When looking at the future of hydropower, it’s clear that there is much remaining space for its potential to be maximised. Expected to become one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, and with advances in technology and more efficient methods of hydroelectricity generation, hydropower could yet emerge as one of the leading sources of clean power.
There is also much excitement around the potential for hydropower to be combined with other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to create hybrid systems that can provide a more stable and reliable energy source.
In developing countries, hydropower is increasingly seen as a way to jumpstart economic development, reduce poverty, and combat climate change. Meanwhile, in developed countries, it is being used to meet the high demand for energy and help reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Ultimately, the future of hydropower will hinge on the development of new technologies. Currently, hydropower is limited by the energy generated from flowing water and the number of available water resources. However, researchers are working on new technologies to increase the efficiency of hydropower systems. For example, tidal power and wave power are two technologies that have the potential to vastly increase the amount of energy generated from flowing water.
The cost of hydropower is also an essential factor in determining its future. Currently, it is a relatively expensive form of energy, but with the development of new technologies, the use of existing infrastructures, and by taking advantage of existing natural resources, the costs associated with hydropower should gradually reduce.
Hydropower has been an essential source of energy for centuries, and today, its future looks even brighter as a renewable energy source with the potential to generate large amounts of power in a relatively short amount of time.
Despite some potential drawbacks, the popularity of hydropower continues to grow, mainly as it looks set to become more cost-effective as technology advances and the potential it promises when combined with other sources of renewable energy.
At Tariff, we’ve made a firm commitment to helping businesses from all sectors adjust their energy usage habits. We have extensive experience in securing businesses the best possible deal on their gas and electricity, as well as preparing them for the looming 2050 deadline for net-zero emissions.
Whether you’re uncertain of your business’ future in energy, or you’re ready to make the move to a cleaner and brighter future, get in touch with our knowledgeable team today to find out how Tariff can help your business begin its green journey.