Hydroelectric Energy Overlooked Solution?

At this point, the academic world is in agreement about the threat posed by global warming and other side effects of our energy use pollution. Hopefully, the public is following suit. To avoid flooding, climate change, unstable ecosystems, and natural disasters, engineers and scientists have been working on green sources of energy. Developing new sources of green energy will take time and advancement, but in the meantime, there is a green source we have been using for years. In 2014, Hydroelectric power provided 6% of our energy production in the U.S. However, there are roughly 77600 dams in the U.S. that do not support the generation of hydro electric power. What if we were to convert these damns into hydroelectric power plants? By how much could we increase the United State’s clean energy production, and if we were to replace the non-renewable forms of energy production with this new energy source, how much could we reduce the national carbon emissions by? For the record the following math is just rough calculations based on the unreasonable assumptions that all hydroelectric power is generate by dams, and all dams generate the same amount of hydro electric energy:

In 2014, the United States generated 4093 Billion Kilowatt hours of electricity. Six percent of which came from a hydro electric source. To put this into perspective the average American home uses about 10,000 Kilowatt hours per year, so the electricity generated by the United States in one year could power about 41 Million homes just like yours. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

(4.093 x 10^12) Kilowatt hours x .06 = (2.45 x 10^11) Kilowatt hours

Only 3% of the 80,000 dams in the United States generate hydroelectric power. http://www.hydro.org/tech-and-policy/developing-hydro/powering-existing-dams/

80,000 Dams x .03 = 2400 Dams

(2.45 x 10^11) Kilowatt hours / 2400 Dams = (1.02 x 10^8) Kilowatt hours per dam

Now if the remaining dams were converted, we would have 77600 new dams generating hydroelectric power.

(1.02 x 10^8) Kilowatt hours per dam x 77600 dams = (7.91 x 10 ^ 12) Kilowatt hours

Operating under the previously mentioned assumptions, the United States would increase our electricity generation by nearly double its total from the year 2014, and that increase would be comprised entirely of clean renewable energy.

(7.91 x 10^12) Kilowatt hours from new hydroelectric sources / (4.093 x 10^12) Total Kilowatt hours produced by the United States in 2014 = 1.93

Although this estimate is likely high, with an increase of nearly 200% of the energy production in the United States, we could easily replace the non-renewable energy production, with clean renewable energy. 68% of the United State’s electricity production in 2014 was from non-renewable and carbon emitting sources. This amounts to about 2800 Billion Kilowatt hours of electricity. The amount generated by these new damns could replace this unclean energy three and a half times over. So if we convert even half of these dams and they produce 75% of the energy we expect and assume in these calculations, we could eliminate our green house gas emissions.

(4.093 x 10^12) x .68 = (2.78 x 10^12) / (7.91 x 10^12) = 3.5 / 2 = 1.75

Enough with the boring math and large numbers. We should address some of the counter arguments that might be made against this proposal. Dams are not without their environmental fallout. If done improperly, they could flood an area causing the destruction of habitats and decomposition of plant life, which creates green house gasses (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-hydroelectric-energy.html#.VskAauYwA7R). Even if done properly, they can ruin the habitat of aquatic life in rivers, and hinder their migration patterns, or kill them outright with the turbines. Fortunately, because these dams already exist, if we carefully select which ones to convert and do so properly the environmental fallout should be minimal. But this will require the work of a lot of intelligent, mindful, and qualified individuals. So yes this will require some time and money, but this also should stimulate the economy and hopefully at the very least replace the jobs that might be lost by removal of industries using coal, natural gases, and petroleum. I won’t say that the loss of these industries wouldn’t be a problem for the economy or that we can even force these businesses to shut down, but maybe if this work were offered to them as a replacement or an expansion the economic fallout and resistance from these companies could be minimal. The risks of not moving away from non-renewable energy our looming overhead in the not so distant future, and we need to take steps to avoid that fate and demonstrate that it can be done to other nations.

By converting these dams to hydro electric power plants, we can replace up to 100% of our non-renewable energy generation with clean renewable sources. This would eliminate Carbon Emissions for the nation, add new jobs, and take proactive action against carbon pollution and global warming. This is not without its concerns or downsides, but if handled responsibly the benefits far outweigh the risks, and we can continue to look for other solutions in the meantime.

Converting Non-Powered Dams | National Hydropower Association. (n.d.). Retrieved February   20, 2016, from http://www.hydro.org/tech-and-policy/developing-hydro/powering-existing-dams/

How Hydroelectric Energy Works. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2016, from             http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-    hydroelectric-energy.html#.Vqu1MUYsBm0

U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. (n.d.).  Retrieved February 20, 2016, from http://www.eia.gov/environment/

 

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