Is Hydroelectric Power Really Safe for Environment?

Water generates hydroelectric energy. So, it is a clean power source, meaning it will not cause air pollution of the surroundings unlike the power plants, which produce enough toxic wastes and pollution through the burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas or coal. Being a domestic energy resource it allows every state to generate energy on their own through this without being dependent on international fuel sources. 

However, hydroelectric power has certain drawbacks on the environment. Though this energy resource is non-polluting,  the hydropower facilities have severe impacts on natural habitats, homes, and land use near the area of the dam. In extreme circumstances, it may also disrupt the wildlife habitat.

hydroelectic power plants

So, is it implying a negative impact of hydropower on flora, fauna, and humans? Is it an eco-friendly energy resource? If no, then is the concept of hydropower plants contributing to the release of toxic by-products, thereby causing air pollution?  

Let’s dive deeper into the discussion to seek the answers of the above questions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydropower Plants

Hydropower plants and its energy consumption have raised the groundwater levels in nearby lakes which has a positive impact on flora and fauna of that surrounding region. On the contrary, change in water temperature and course of the river is also serving as significant setbacks of hydropower generation. 

Advantages of Hydroelectricity

Water power offers a range of benefits to the communities they serve. Here are some of such advantages of hydropower and hydropower plants in the process of providing energy to society:

  1. Being reliant on the water cycle and fueled by the sun, hydropower is a clean, renewable source of energy. Plus, it is an affordable source compared to fossil fuels which are depleting very rapidly with increasing demand.
  2. Impoundment of hydropower plants/reservoirs offer a range of recreational privileges, notably swimming, fishing, boating, and others. A maximum number of hydropower plants installation allows access to the public so that they can experience the opportunities of the impoundment. 
  3. Individual hydropower facilities can quickly drop from delivering maximum power output to zero power. Since hydropower plants can instantly produce energy to the grid, they ensure necessary power back-up in times of disruptions or major electricity outages.
  4. In addition to being a sustainable source of energy, hydroelectric efforts offer several benefits, including an ample quantity of water supply to compensate for reduced surface water level, irrigation, and flood control.

Disadvantages of Hydroelectricity

Similarly, there are corresponding disadvantages that cost the environment, human society, and flora and fauna of regions near the hydropower plants:

  1. The environmental consequences related to the installation of hydropower plants and energy generation are evident from the interventions in nature caused by water damming,  of water, changed course of the river water, and the construction of power lines and roads.
  2. Hydropower plants can also put a negative impact on aquatic organisms, especially fish. It is a complex interaction of the biological factors with the physical aspects. With more user-interest in fish species exploitation, it is a field which many people have strong views.
  3. Fish habitats are designed considering the physical factors, including water velocity, water table, food access, followed by shelter opportunities. But, draining can completely devastate the aquatic environment making it difficult for the fish to survive. Added to that, the water quantity could have different impacts on the river fishes, based on the stage and type of the life cycle (for fish). Due to the inconsistent speed of the water flow, most unregulated river systems are unfavourable in terms of fish production.
  4. Construction of any power plant is generally quite expensive. So, a hydropower power plant is also not anything exceptional. However, the good thing is this, these plants don’t need a number of labours, plus the cost of maintenance is usually low.
  5. Generation of electricity and energy cost are directly associated with the quantity of water available in the dam. Natural drawbacks like drought could potentially affect the dam water level.
  6. In many regions, people have started using the reservoirs suitable for installing hydropower plants. About thirty such major power plants are currently under construction. Their idea is to produce power of more than 2.000 Mega Watt, which would be a great help to society. Sadly, only one such project was started, that too two years back.  

How to Reduce the Impact of Hydroelectricity

Dams are basically built to supply water to the growing communities and in regions with the lower surface water level. Plus, their construction contributes to the world economy.  Beyond this, hydropower plants and their renewable energy generation are environmentally safe. However,  the construction of these dams and reservoirs has serious impacts on the global ecosystem. Therefore, scientists across the world recommend proper planning and strategies mitigation practices to subside the effects of existing dams.

The government should propose strategic measures to eventually reduce the utilisation of hydropower, and find an alternative source of energy. 

hydroelectricity in japan

Coming to the industrial sector, there are technologies that are cheaper yet equally capable as the hydropower generation. For example; in providing electricity to households, industry and villages in rural cum remote areas of the society. So, it’s not only an economically great deal for them but also a major stress releaser on earth. 

Utilization of biomass gasifiers, that incinerate agricultural waste, including corn or rice husks to generate small-scale electricity of less than 100 Kilo Watt and pico-hydro with a minimum of 5 Kilo Watt power generation without requiring a dam. Plus, the use of the natural flow of river water, wind energy and solar energy for power generation, etc. are quite cost-effective processes which can be shared to nearby customers through low voltage systems. 

But, what about Electricity Requirements in Cities? Can that be achieved following small-scale power generation technique?

Obviously, the answer is no. Energy supply is one of the crucial factors to run heavy industries and society. In Cambodia, however, most populations still reside in the rural sections, more appropriately the remote areas. So, the World Bank has accordingly helped the people there to develop a master plan of rural electrification that compensates for the poorly existing infrastructure by using decentralised renewable sources of energy — micro-hydro, biomass, and solar. This idea supported the individuals to create policies that contribute to the expansion of renewables and essentially ensure that these remain workable in the long run.

The Key Message

There is always an alternative technology to invest in, so, we should always focus on better ways which can reduce the adverse impact of hydroelectricity on the environment. People need to concentrate less on building expensive infrastructure and more on sustainable planning. 

Disha Verma
Disha Verma is a Mass Media student from International School of Business & Media (ISBM). She lives in Maharastra, India and loves to write articles about Internet & Social Media. When she is not writing, you can find her hanging out with friends in the coffee shop downstreet or reading novels in the society park.