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Hydro Electric Energy

The basic principle of hydropower is that if water can be piped from a certain level to a lower level, then the resulting water pressure can be used to do work. If the water pressure is allowed to move a mechanical component then that movement involves the conversion of the potential energy of the water into mechanical energy. Hydro turbines convert water pressure into mechanical shaft power, which can be used to drive an electricity generator, a grinding mill or some other useful device.

The main advantages of hydropower are:

  • power is usually continuously available on demand,
  • given a reasonable head, it is a concentrated energy source,
  • the energy available is predictable,
  • no fuel and limited maintenance are required, so running costs are low (compared with diesel power) and in many cases imports are displaced to the benefit of the local economy,
  • it is a long-lasting and robust technology; systems can last for 50 years or more without major new investments.

Against these, the main shortcomings are:

It is a site specific technology and sites that are well suited to the harnessing of water power and are also close to a location where the power can be economically exploited are not very common,
there is always a maximum useful power output available from a given hydropower site, which limits the level of expansion of activities which make use of the power,
river flows often vary considerably with the seasons, especially where there are monsoon-type climates and this can limit the firm power output to quite a small fraction of the possible peak output,
lack of familiarity with the technology and how to apply it inhibits the exploitation of hydro resources in some areas.