Calculating The Cost of Hydroelectric Energy
With proper maintenance, hydroelectric energy is far less than using fossil fuels to create electricity. When considering the environmental standpoint hydroelectric energy is not as economical.
Even so, this is a clean energy source that does not add to the problem of greenhouse gases. There are no particulates released into their or chemical runoff that can damage rivers and land.
The cost of hydroelectric energy today would be much higher than it was when the massive dams were built a generation or two ago.
Environmental impact studies alone would add significantly to the cost and delay constructions for years. Additional studies would be required focusing on land utilization and potential for devastating floods.
A major reason nuclear power has not been expanded past power plants built 30-40 years ago is the additional environmental studies and multi-agency regulations that add so much to the cost and time involved.
This is also true when considered adding new hydroelectric power facilities as cost could not be estimated accurately.
The hydroelectric plants that are in existence today are paying for themselves. These dams were built before the public focus on environmental issues was an issue and before we knew the full impact on nature of changing natural water flow.
Locating a hydroelectric plant of substantial size means building a huge dam and this requires land with a certain amount of gradient.
You don't find hydroelectric plants on flat plains or in coastal regions for good reason. The topography is not varied enough to allow the gravitational pull on water that is necessary to make electricity.
It is possible future hydroelectric plants will be small installations where huge dams are not required. As technology improves hydroelectric energy may be manageable for new power plants built to serve small communities or regional areas.
One advantage of using water to create electricity is the water is always available. By simply controlling the rate of flow in an area where the force of gravity can be used to increase water pressure, it's possible to produce power day in and day out. For this reason, hydroelectric power generation will be part of the plan for alternative energy in the future.
Fossil fuels are rapidly dwindling in supply. As the population of the world has increased so has the use of fossil fuels.
This is a finite resource. In the past one hundred years the amount of fossil fuels needed to product energy has doubled every twenty years.
This increase is not sustainable and it is estimated oil and coal will begin to disappear in the next sixty years. Natural gas may last a bit longer but eventually the world's supply will be used.
These are not renewable resources so the race is on worldwide to develop alternate energy using renewable and widely available resources.
Many of the proposed solutions offer potential but have drawbacks as well. Solar and wind power rely on weather conditions in the area. A solar cell will only store energy on a sunny day and if wind is not blowing, wind turbines are useless.
Of possible alternative energy sources, only hydroelectric power and biomass energy offer potential solutions that could be relied on to provide power as needed.
The development of biomass energy is only beginning but in time it may be possible for us to produce all of the power we need by recycling the trash and garbage that now clogs our landfills.
Meanwhile, wood stove and pellet stoves use biomass to create heat in northern states and logs burned in fireplaces provide biomass energy.
Hydroelectric cost in maintenance of current dams and power plant may increase over time as the installation age. However, so far the cost of maintenance has been manageable and the installations have been reliable.
Hydroelectric power is 7% of the US energy budget today. The percentage has been decreasing as new hydroelectric power plants have not been constructed for some time.
The period of dam building that began in the 1930s was part of a pubic works program to combat the Great Depression.
The resulting low cost of generating electrical power with water led to an increase in dam building that lasted from 1950 to 1970. The cost of electricity from a hydro plant is lower than power produced using fossil fuels.
The fear of dam failures is always present. The dams used today have been in existence now for many years. From 1918-1958 there were 33 recorded dam failures that caused over 1600 fatalities around the world.
In the U.S. the incidence has been rare due to careful monitoring and exacting maintenance schedules. For the most part, the fears of huge catastrophe have not been realized and the regions that receive electricity from hydroelectric plants have some of the lowest energy costs in the country.