Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hydro Power - How We Harness The Power Of Water

By Tim McDonald

Harnessing the power of water has been used for centuries for many useful purposes. Initially it was used for irrigation and operating various machines, such as windmills and dock cranes. But these days it has a more important use: as a renewable source of electricity.

Nowadays hydro-power is generated in 3 different ways: hydroelectric power, tidal power, and wave power.

Hydroelectric dams:

Hydro-electric dams produced up to 90% of the world's alternative energy, so it plays a vital role. Here, dams release water through huge turbines, which are spun by the force of the water.

The advantage of this type of power is that not only does it produce electricity, but the dam helps collect water for our use, so it's a power and water source in one. Furthermore, the force of the water is so strong that megawatts of electricity can be produced to help power entire cities.

The disadvantage is the devastating effect dams can have on plants, animals and even humans. When dams are built they flood large tracts of land that were once occupied by various species and communities of people. Furthermore, the water-borne animals, such as fish can also be affected. An example would be salmon that are blocked from swimming upstream to spawn by the newly erected dam.

Tidal Power:

Using the tides is the second most common form of hydro-power. Here, electricity is generated by using the low and high tides.

It has been used in Russia and France since the 1960's in large estuaries and bays. On method is used where water from the high tide is blocked and then channeled through turbines back into the sea as the tide goes out.

Although the tides are very predictable and consistent, the problem with this system is that the turbines only operate every 6 hours (once every tide).

The latest tidal power system operates where large windmill-type turbines are placed in shallow water, and spin slowly as the tide comes in and goes out.

The advantage of this system is that it is an adaptation of an already technologically advanced wind turbine - so all the refinement has been done. Furthermore, the dense water is far more efficient than wind at spinning these turbines. Thus even slow-moving water is just as effective as a strong wind.

The disadvantage with this tidal power system is that it can only operate in shallow area. This is usually where other economic activities, such as oyster farming, take place, and also where marine life thrives.

Wave Energy:

This is the youngest of the three hydro-power solutions. The system harnesses the power from ocean surface wave motion, where air displaced by waves is driven through a generator than spins a turbine. The end result is electricity. These generators can either be coupled to floating devices outta sea, or fixed along the shore where seas are rough.

What makes this technology so appealing is it potential to harness over two thousand megawatts of power that the ocean's waves contain.

But, like any renewable energy system, there are environmental implications. These systems can damage the various corals and other ocean species along our coastlines. And the hydraulic fluid used could cause major water pollution if it ever leaked out into the sea.

Last words:

Man has developed innovative techniques to harness the power of water to produce electricity. But, like most renewable energy solutions there will always be social and environmental impacts.

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