Hydro Power Systems operate by converting potential energy stored in water into kinetic energy; the energy can then be used to produce electricity. The energy available will depend on the waters flow rate and the height that the water falls from.
Hydro power is the most widely used renewable energy source; in the UK the majority of the hydro-electric potential is in Scotland. Large-scale hydro power is already a well established from of renewable energy with extremely developed technology: although most large scale capacity in the UK has been reached.
The availability of energy is dependent on an assured supply of fast-flowing water, which can be obtained from rainfall spread evenly throughout the year or by building dams and storing water in large reservoirs.
Initial costs for the systems are high; the technology must be implemented before the system will work, i.e. dams and power stations will need to be built, turbines will need to be installed and pylons and cables will need to be erected. However, once the system is installed the ‘natural’ continual flow of water makes electricity cheaper than the electricity produced by fossil fuels.
There are seven forms of water power:
- Waterwheels – been used for hundreds of years to power mills and machinery
- Hydroelectricity – usually referring to hydroelectric dams
- Damless Hydro – captures kinetic energy in rivers, streams and oceans
- Tidal Power – captures energy from the tides in a horizontal direction
- Tidal Stream Power – captures energy from tides in a vertical direction
- Vortex Power – creates vortices which can be tapped for energy
- Wave Power – uses the energy present in waves
Small Scale Hydro can also be utilised in domestic situations, however, it does rely on the presence of a river/body of water that you are able to access. All schemes are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and are expensive to install.
Hydro energy is clean, but it can have potentially damaging effects on the environment. The creation of reservoirs can mean large areas of vegetation, wildlife habitats and agricultural land is damaged or lost. If the dams break or collapse then there is an extremely high flood risk which could result in people losing their homes.