13 Hydropower Pros and Cons

As population levels grow, the demand for power continues to increase. In the developing world, population increases can put pressure on power infrastructures to the point where they may fail. As for the developed world, additional power resources allow for a diversified infrastructure that isn’t depended on one form of energy.

Hydropower serves as an available source of power around the world. The energy of water movement is harvested by using turbines that generate power because of this energy. It is thought to be a renewable energy source because fossil fuels are not combusted to create it.

Not every community has access to hydropower resources. Only those near a river or body of water, or the resources to bring in water-generated power with infrastructure investments, can take advantage of this resource.

Here are some additional hydropower pros and cons to think about.

What Are the Pros of Hydropower?

1. It is a domestic source of energy for many countries.
Hydropower makes it possible for many countries to produce their own energy resources. If a nation is reliant on another for most of their power, then they become dependent upon that relationship. Should something happen to the providing nation, then the nation importing the power will be directly affected at the same time.

2. Hydropower facilities are flexible and adaptable to change.
Modern hydropower facilities can go from a zero-power output to maximum output levels in a very short period. This is because these plants can generate power immediately and distribute it to the connected grid. It is a way to offer a source of power to communities as a back-up resource if a primary power plant goes off-line for some reason.

3. Hydropower is often generated with the use of a dam.
By placing a dam strategically along a river, it becomes possible to offer additional environmental and economic benefits to a community in addition to the power generation that is created. Dams are effective at controlling annual floods. They provide a resource for farmers that need irrigation for their croplands. Hydropower also creates a water supply that can be used for drinking water, recreational activities, and wildlife habitats.

4. The power generated is dependent upon the water cycle.
That is why hydropower is classified as a renewable power source. The sun drives the water cycle, creating a resource which is not depleted in the same way that some fossil fuel resources may be depleted over time. This makes hydropower a clean fuel source as well, which means it does not pollute the atmosphere in the same way that a power plant combusting fossil fuels would. Hydropower is even cleaner than natural gas.

5. It is a stable form of power.
The electrical power that is generated by a hydropower facility is one of the most stable options that current technology supports. There is little fluctuation in the output rate or frequency of the power created. For this reason, hydropower is often thought to be a good base-load source of energy. It can support an entire grid if needed, or be supplemental energy to meet peak demands, without disruptions to the infrastructure.

6. Hydropower is cost-competitive.
Although the upfront building costs of hydropower facilities can be quite high, the power generated by these facilities is cost-competitive with other forms of power production. Natural gas, nuclear energy, and coal-fired plants work with hydropower to create a domestic supply of energy that consumers can afford and use to their personal benefit.

7. It supports rural development.
Communities that are not connected to major highways or other components of infrastructure can still development thanks to the installation of hydropower facilities. This includes cropland development from the reservoirs that are often created by these facilities.

What Are the Cons of Hydropower?

1. Hydropower can change the dynamics of a local ecosystem.
Because hydropower is usually produced by a dam, the river which is blocked begins to form into a lake or reservoir. That changes the ecosystem dynamics of the region, often replacing one wildlife habitat with another. In some instances, even human populations have needed to be moved because of the placement of a dam. In Egypt, some villages were moved more than 100 kilometers away from their generational homes.

2. The failure of a hydropower system could have catastrophic consequences.
Although considered unlikely, consider what would happen if Hoover Dam in the US would be compromised. Because it holds back 10 trillion gallons of water, a catastrophic event would cause it to affect more than 100,000 people immediately. Without enough of a warning to evacuate, the cascading waters would wash them and everything else away. The largest dam failure in the US occurred when the South Fork Dam broke in Pennsylvania, taking more than 2,200 lives.

3. Installing a new hydropower facility can be quite expensive.
There are time and monetary costs that must be considered when installing a new hydropower facility. Major dams can cost billions of dollars and take more than a decade to complete, which is why there are only 300 of them in the world right now. The Itaipu Dam on the border of Paraguay and Brazil, for example, was installed at a cost of more than $20 billion and it took almost 20 years to build it.

4. Changes to the water cycle could change power production.
The lengthy drought in California shows what could happen to hydropower facilities when changes to the environment occur. Many reservoirs in California were eliminated during the drought, while others were below 50% capacity. A prolonged drought could change power production levels at a hydropower facility, which would affect the amount of domestic production that could be achieved.

5. The lifespan of a hydropower facility is low compared to other forms of energy.
When nuclear power plants were first developed, it was believed they would last for 40 years. Today, it is estimated that US power plants may run for up to an additional 70 years, giving the facility a lifespan of 110+ years of service. In comparison, most hydropower facilities are estimated to last around 50 years, though retrofitting could extend the lifetime of these facilities.

6. Border conflicts can happen because of hydropower.
Many nations form their borders based on rivers. This same is true for states in the US. Because of this, conflicts about which state or nation receives the energy or in what amount can lead to delays or disruptions in the power supply. It can even be the potential source for the start of warfare if the conflict is not negotiated.

These hydropower pros and cons are just the beginning of the conversation. It is clear that there are positive aspects to having hydropower resources available, but there are consequences that must also be managed.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.