Hydroelectricity is a renewable energy resource that harnesses the energy of flowing water. It is currently the most widely used form of renewable energy on the planet. Canada is the world’s second largest producer of hydroelectricity. Hydro-Quebec accounts for almost half of Canada’s total energy production.
Humans have been harnessing hydropower for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used water wheels to grind their wheat and flour nearly 2000 years ago. Although the central tenets behind the usage of hydropower are much the same, technology has come a long way since then. The invention of the hydraulic reaction turbine has been a boon to the industry. By the early 1900s, 40 per cent of America’s electricity was produced by hydroelectric production. As this form of renewable energy became more abundant and reliable, it was termed “white coal” to distinguish its gradual substitution for the primary source of energy at the time.
The basic theory of hydroelectric power generation is the principle of converting mechanical energy into electricity. When water rotates a turbine, the kinetic energy of the water is transferred to the turbine, and this mechanical energy is converted to electricity. The amount of power produced is dependent on the volume and height difference between the main water body and outflow. This height difference is called “the head”, and it is directly proportional to the energy output of the water source. Although dams are presently the primary method of producing hydroelectric power, there do exist a variety of other methods by which hydropower can be harnessed.
Hydroelectric power holds a wealth of potential in regards to energy production. Almost two thirds of economically feasible hydro-potential is yet to be developed on a global scale, specifically in the regions of Latin America, Central Africa, and Asia. Operational and maintenance costs are relatively low and it is also a reliable and abundant source of renewable energy.
The industry is still improving as new technologies are discovered and old methods are refined to increase efficiency. Hydropower remains an extremely regional source of energy as it requires a large water source. Although operational and maintenance costs may be low, there are high initial investment costs. In addition, hydropower plants tend to disturb the natural environment and can often mean a loss of wildlife and aquatic habitats.
Still, the future of hydropower remains bright. Electricity demand is expected to grow by about 1.2 per cent per annum for decades to come, and hydropower is expected to play an important role in reducing emissions and relieving the demands of an ever-growing population and economy.