Nowadays, renewable sources of energy are considered the panacea for the exhaustion of natural resources, environmental pollution, global warming, and disappearance of species of flora and fauna as well as the provision of energy to satisfy the growing demand for it. Notwithstanding the existence of the significant and evident benefits granted by the use of renewable sources, their application can also be associated with enormous problems. The current work will represent the analysis of the controversial information about the utility of renewable sources. This assessment will focus on the discussion of the benefits and dangers of the use of hydropower energy. The depiction of advantages and disadvantages of the work of hydropower stations for energy production will provide an understanding of whether humanity should proceed using this source of renewable energy or shift their attention to other technologies.
At the current moment, renewable energy resources are already used in various locations and supply about 14% of the total amount of energy (Panwar, Kaushik, and Kothari). This figure is not large, but it is constantly growing because renewable sources steadily replace non-renewable sources of energy. It is estimated that till 2100 these sources would provide from 30% to 80% of global demand. However, this figure is given without clarifications because people who live in various locations use different sources to a different extent. For example, hydropower is used to satisfy about 20% of the global demand for electricity (Panwar, Kaushik, and Kothari). This resource is used in the regions which have access to water.
The major renewable energy sources are hydropower, biomass, marine energies, wind, solar, and geothermal (Panwar, Kaushik, and Kothari). Unlike fossil fuels, which are currently used as one of the major sources of energy, the discussed source is renewable and cause less harm to the environment and humanity in the form of air contamination and global climate changes. However, the use of fossil fuels cannot be totally ceased at the current moment due to several reasons. The first one is the rapidly growing demand for energy to support the current and future technological development. The second and maybe the major reason is that means of generation of renewable energy is not ideal. In fact, it still has several deficiencies such as the impossibility to be used in different locations all over the world and negative impact on the environment, among others. Thus, humanity should accurately weigh all pros and cons before giving preference to renewable energy resources.
It is reasonable to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the use of hydropower. This source of renewable energy is generated by the use of a special power station, waterways or reservoirs, and dams (Kadar). It is worth mentioning that hydropower is one of the oldest used renewable sources of energy. In fact, humanity uses it for about 140 years (Kadar). This figure is given without reference to the original source or mentioning the time and place of the first application of hydropower, and it is, thus, questionable.
The use of hydro energy has numerous advantages. The first one and the most obvious is that it is renewable. Moreover, the majority of people think that it poses little harm to the environment and humanity. Theoretically, the generation of energy is free from carbon dioxide (Kadar). Additional attention should be paid to the fact that no harm to the environment is caused by external transportation because energy is generated inside the turbine. Therefore, the working stations do not overload the environment by heat. At first sight, this source is considered environmentally friendly as even new wild areas are formed near it. Talking about the generation of heat, it is rather high as the efficiency of the station is more than 80% (Kadar). Among other positive effects of hydropower energy generation are the regulation of river flows, control of floods, provision of navigation, storage of water to be used during dry periods, and irrigation of lands used for agriculture (Mekonnen and Hoekstra). Moreover, even the small number of staff members of the station can perform a fast start and easily control its operational performance (Kadar). Furthermore, this energy is believed to be rather cheap.
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However, in reality, the use of hydro energy as a renewable source poses numerous dangers to the environment, flora, and fauna. The first danger connected with the use of hydropower stations is that the emission of carbon dioxide is still possible. This harmful substance can be emitted into the atmosphere during the process of burning of iron furnace and cement which are used as the components of the hydropower station (Kadar). Although water power stations are believed to protect from floods, there were cases of such occurrences. The inundations which have already happened in different locations of the world have destroyed not only the flora and fauna of the regions located nearby the water power plants but also the invaluable cultural heritage.
Additional attention should be paid to the fact that the expenses on the construction of a water power station are rather high. Along with the actual generation of electricity, significant funds should be spent on irrigation and flood protection. Unfortunately, there were no figures relating to these additional costs given in the article “Pros and Cons of the Renewable Energy Application” (Kadar). Moreover, significant funds are required for the displacement of individuals who live in the locations dedicated for building hydropower stations. This fact should be taken into consideration as the number of such individuals is rather high. According to data, about 250.000 individuals were displaced in Mozambique for building the Cabora Bassa, and about 1.200.000 persons were relocated in China for construction of the hydropower station named Three Gorges (Kadar). In fact, such relocations not only entail financial expenditures but also pose some inconveniences for these people. Moreover, people lose the ability to utilize large agricultural areas for food production as they are used for the needs of electricity generation. The areas which are currently used for these needs are enormous, namely 415.000 hectares in Sobtadiho, 2500 km2 in Balbina, 135.000 hectares in Itaipu, Brazil, 426.000 hectares in Guri complex in Venezuela, and 5300 hectares in Gabcikovo, Slovakia (Kadar). The construction of water power stations can create barriers for the local traffic, especially for vessels that drift through the waters of the rivers where dams are located.
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The special studies also showed that the use of hydropower energy is connected with the enormous blue water footprint, i.e. not only pollution of water during the energy generation but also its consumption. In the current work, the consumption is represented by simple evaporation of the ground and surface waters during their storage in the large hydropower dams (Mekonnen and Hoekstra). It is worth noting that such evaporation is significantly greater than that from natural water reservoirs. According to Mekonnen and Hoekstra, the water lost from such evaporation is equal “to 10 % of the global blue water footprint related to crop production” (179). Thus, the average blue water footprint caused by the work of hydropower stations varies from 22 m3 GJ-1 to 90 22 m3 GJ-1 (Mekonnen and Hoekstra). The differences can be explained by a great variety of factors. The authors noted such factors as climatic conditions and the size of the flooded area (Mekonnen and Hoekstra).
The construction and operation of hydropower plants are connected with the real and possible negative consequences for flora and fauna of the nearby locations. The building of these stations is connected with the change of the sandy banks of water reservoirs from sandy to rocky. As a consequence, this can lead to the irretrievable disappearance of pay gravel. The construction also causes the rise of the water level. At the same time, the level of the underground water is sinking on the locations under the dam due to the deepening of the riverbed. The floating drift subsides as a result of the decrease in the flow of the floating drift. Moreover, “the headwater channels the floodplains are going to be drained” (Kadar 213). The erosion of the banks of water reservoirs is caused by peak power operations. Consequently, these changes in the surface affect local species of flora and fauna. The changes in water levels that happen during relatively short periods of time have a negative impact on fish reproduction. It is explained by the fact that fish seldom settles near the banks which are covered by asphalt and concentrate. The change of the water structure caused by the damage of the natural water filtering abilities due to the excavation of the sediments can also lead to changes in fish species. The waters lose their ability relating to the natural biological and mechanical cleaning. Thus, they become more polluted. This process becomes even sharper owing to the fact that forest decays. The eutrophication of water can cause the production of toxins which may be dangerous for local inhabitants, as it happened during the flooding of 2830 km2 while constructing La Grande/James Bay in northern Canada (Kadar). The work of hydropower stations can even lead to the extinction of fish because water overheats in reservoirs during hot seasons. The change of the landscape, fish diversity and increased pollution of water could also lead to the disappearance or removal of some species of animal life.
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The current work represents the discussion of one of the most widely used sources of renewable energy, namely hydropower. It is generated by means of water power stations which use water from special reservoirs. This source is considered rather widespread owing to the use of renewable resources, low cost of energy, rare cases when heat overloads the environment, protection of the nearby areas from flooding, and even provision of water for agricultural needs. However, this means of energy generation has numerous disadvantages. The first one is that it does not totally eliminate the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The generation is connected with numerous additional expenses on the irrigation, protection from flood, displacement of people, change of transportation flows, and inability to use the land for agricultural purposes. Moreover, the work of hydropower stations is connected with the enormous blue water footprint reflected by the evaporation of water from reservoirs. The construction and maintenance of these stations change the banks of water reservoirs and impact on water levels. The natural ability of water to clean itself becomes significantly lower, thereby leading to changes in the diversity of fish, flora, and fauna of locations nearby hydropower stations. These significant negative sides of the use of hydropower stations form the relevant background for the reconsideration of this source of renewable energy as one of the major means of production. As per the personal understanding, humanity should search for methods for the mitigation of negative impacts of the construction and work of hydropower stations or replace this source by other means of generation of electricity which would be less destructive.