Hydropower



Hydropower is the most widely used form of renewable energy. It accounts for 99.1% of all the renewable energy used in the United States. As its name suggests, hydropower makes use of the energy stored within water. But unlike ocean energy, which makes use of the heat and tidal energy of water, hydropower makes use of the kinetic energy of falling water.

The majority of hydroelectric plants work on the principle of impoundment. This method makes use of a manmade dam, which blocks the downward flow of a large body of water. To produce electricity, this stored water is allowed to flow out of the reservoir, and in the process, it spins the blades of a turbine, which generates electricity. Another method of harnessing hydropower makes use of the principle of diversion, which doesn’t require the use of a dam. In this process, a portion of a river is diverted into a manmade channel and used to power a generator.

Since the source of energy in hydropower plants is falling water, there is no carbon dioxide created in the process. Also, hydropower is renewable, meaning it will never run out. That is because the water cycle is driven by the sun: as sunlight strikes a body of water, it causes some of the water to evaporate. This evaporated water then falls as precipitation, which runs into rivers and streams. This cycle never stops. As long as the sun continues to shine, hydropower will continue to produce electricity.

Although it is the most utilized form of renewable energy in the United States, it is not being used to its full potential. The United States currently produces 80,000 megawatts of electricity from hydropower, but industry experts believe there is another 30,000 megawatts of untapped hydropower in the United States.

However, there are a few disadvantages to hydropower. Since hydropower essentially halts the natural flow of a body of water, it can have a negative impact on the surrounding wildlife habitat. Hydropower is especially destructive to fish populations. As water flows into hydropower plants, fish are often swept into the water turbines. However, turbine designers are working on ways to minimizing this effect.

Although it is the most widely used form of renewable energy in the United States, hydropower only accounts for 7% of the electricity produced. The other 93% of electricity still comes from conventional forms of energy, such as coal and natural gas. 

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