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Geothermal Energy

The history of geothermal dates back to 4th July 1904 when Prince Piero Ginori tested the first geothermal power generator in Larderello, Italy. This was a means to find new ways to generate electricity due to an increase in demand. From then on, geothermal power production became widely known, but not quite adopted.

​How Geothermal Energy Works

In geothermal power production, there are pipes dug deep into the ground so that the hot water that is trapped inside the earths crust rises up as steam to rotate turbines just with its sheer pressure. The motion from the turbines is then transferred to generators which convert it from mechanical energy to electrical energy. The electrical energy then is then transmitted to electric grids where it is distributed to end consumers who use it as electricity in homes and businesses.

If you're wondering where this hot water comes from, then you might want to know a few things about geothermal reservoirs. Simply put, they are large pools heated by magma underground from the earth's core. Temperatures in the earth's core rise above 4000°C. The liquids which rise above the surface are formed in the crust where temperatures are higher than 350°C, but because of these high temperatures, they almost always come out in gaseous state first. In fact, what we usually see as geysers and hot springs are merely cooled down forms of the superheated fluids. In essence, geothermal power production deals with harnessing the steam and converting its kinetic energy to mechanical energy and finally to electric energy.

​Geothermal Energy Generation Cost

The cost of a constructing a geothermal power plant is far higher than the cost of constructing an oil rig. Physically, geothermal power plants look more complex than oil rigs because they require a lot more apart from the turbines that will convert the kinetic energy in steam to mechanical energy and then to electrical energy. The reasons for these high costs are obvious as well. The labor required, for instance, is more expensive than the one that is required when setting up an oil rig. In addition, factors such as drilling costs also play a big role too.

However, after construction, the costs incurred are rather minimal. The cost of construction of a geothermal power plant could be as low as $3400 per kilowatt installed and for small-scale power plants, this figure could be lower at $3000. This is in comparison to other renewable energy sources like hydroelectric power which costs far more. While it is generally accepted that construction of geothermal power plants is more expensive than the construction of oil rigs, it's important to note that its costs varies from one project to another depending on the size of the plant and even the local environmental policies.

With regard to construction time, geothermal power plants also take some considerable time to build. According to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), a new geothermal project takes between 3 to 5 years to start producing electricity. Taking a stepwise strategy for development, the construction takes about 6 years. This comprises of 3 years for reconnaissance, surface exploration and test drilling and 3 years for production drilling and power plant.

Potential for Geothermal Power

Geothermal power is recognized globally and has a lesser negative impact to the environment than other renewable sources. Despite that, it's used by less than 2% of the world's population. This is because geothermal is location-specific since it can only be tapped in specific areas.

Despite its unavailability in most regions, the future potential for geothermal energy is bright. Research shows that 10,000 meters below the earth's surface, there's a high amount of heat which when tapped, can produce more than 50,000 times the energy that would be obtained from fossil fuels. This is where the Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) comes in. EGS is a technology that geologists and geothermal experts are using to drill into potential geothermal sites. The system works by pouring fluids into the rocks to induce the geothermal process when the rocks are fractured and the liquid seeps through. The resultant effect is that heat is brought to the surface and in turn produces steam which is then harnessed to produce electricity.

In Europe, for example, only about 2.5GW has been tapped, but with EGS, the power that can be produced increases to about 6,500GW. That said, the EGS hasn't been without problems. Since the beginning of its use, cases of earthquake and earth tremors and even fracturing of the rocks when the water heats up too fast have been experienced. When asked, the geothermal experts said that the quakes can be prevented by drilling at the right positions during the start of a project. Should the EGS project become mainstream there's going to be a lot more power than we actually need.

Geothermal Energy by Country

It would be unfair to talk about the potential for geothermal power without reviewing the countries that can actually make geothermal power the norm. Geysers is perhaps one of the many geothermal power plants that you'll often come across. Located in the western state of California, Geysers was perhaps the first plant to be constructed in the US, the same country which also produces the largest power (3,591MW) as of 2018. Despite this, geothermal power only contributes about 0.3% of the country's total energy. Iceland, on the other hand, is a country with a total geothermal power output of 755MW but contributes up to 30% of this energy to its national grid. This makes it one of the few countries to widely adopt this renewable source of energy.

In South East Asia, Philippines began construction of geothermal power plants in 1977, and over the years, the country now produces up to 1,868MW which is used by 27% of the country. This made it secure the third rank in the list below in terms of geothermal energy production globally. Kenya has a capacity of 676MW making it the first African country to make it on the top 10 list. The country is in 9th position in the world in terms of geothermal energy production and contributes to more than 51% of the country's electricity.

As of 2018, the countries with highest geothermal energy outputs include:

  1. USA 3591MW
  2. Indonesia 1948MW
  3. Philippines 1868MW
  4. Turkey 1200MW
  5. New Zealand 1002MW
  6. Mexico 955MW
  7. Italy 944 MW
  8. Iceland 755MW
  9. Kenya 676MW
  10. Japan 542MW

All other countries have a cumulative value of 960MW making the countries on this list stand out. Currently, the energy is used in 24 countries and another 70 are constructing geothermal power plants or are using it in small scales. As technology improves, more countries are finding new ways of exploiting their geothermal energy potentials. With proper technology and incentives from their governments. The high initial cost required to set up a geothermal power plant is what makes most countries, especially developing ones, reluctant to harnessing this renewable energy.

Types of Geothermal Power Plants

To the common person, geothermal power plants are all the same and are indistinguishable, but there are actually three types of geothermal power plants in existence today. The type of plant used for a particular region will depend on how hot the resource is and how much geothermal energy is available.

1. Dry Steam Power Plants

These are the oldest and have been in use for more than 100 years. A pipe is placed deep in the geothermal well which then facilitates the flow of hot liquids and steam upwards to rotate a turbine which then converts the mechanical energy to electrical energy. This type of geothermal power plant is suitable for wells with high liquid temperatures.

2. Flash Cycle Steam Plants

These are suitable for wells which generally have lower temperatures than those being used in dry steam plants. They are more common because there aren't so many geothermal wells that have naturally occurring high temperature steam. The liquid from the earth's crust usually rises from the well and to the surface similarly to dry steam power plants. As the pressure of the liquid reduces, it is converted to steam which then passes through the turbine to be converted to energy.

3. Binary Cycle Plants

Binary plants use two vessels with different boiling points hence the name binary. The first vessel contains the hot water from the well. The water rises up the well and flows through a heat exchanger to the vessel. The second vessel contains a fluid of lower boiling point such as butane. After it flows through, it vaporizes since it has a higher boiling point and the steam is relayed to the turbines to produce electricity. This process is not so common but has a high probability of use in future because it can be used in locations that are far from geothermal hotspots. In addition, the lower temperatures used in the process may reduce cost of production.

Uses of Geothermal Energy

There are various ways geothermal energy is used in various countries around the world. In ancient times, people near the fields used to fetch the water directly from hot springs for bathing, cooking and other chores around the house and even skinning their game – a practice which continues to date.

People also use geothermal energy for other reasons depending on the needs and their geographical location. In Iceland for example, residents have installed heat pumps and whole districts have direct heating systems to warm their houses during winter.

The government even relies on the geysers to melt the snow in the estates which makes life comfortable for its citizens. Some countries are also using geothermal to heat up greenhouses to facilitate the growth of "fragile crops" or even to ensure they grow during the extremely cold seasons. From roses grown in Kenya to citrus trees and other vegetables in Hungary, many organizations are slowly coming to the realization of the benefits of heated greenhouses for farming.

Fish farms are also using this energy to heat up their farms to protect the tropical species from winter seasons since it affects their lifespan. In Netherlands, the government has built bike roads powered with geothermal energy to avoid the risks caused by ice during cold seasons. While this can be categorized under electricity generation, it is rather unique as it is not such a common use especially in countries like the Philippines and Kenya.

Another use is for electricity generation which is actually the most mainstream use. Most countries which are harnessing geothermal energy are using it to provide electricity for their citizens. For some, it is too low, so they use in small-scale or merely for the industrial sectors. For others, like the top 10 that had been listed earlier, production is high enough to power homes and businesses and even export some of the electricity to neighboring countries.

All in all, it's safe to say geothermal has little to no negative impacts to the environment. When it's being produced, some chemical compounds like oxides of Sulphur may get released into the atmosphere which can in turn be harmful to both human beings and the environment.

However, it has less than 5% carbon footprint in comparison with the emissions from fossil fuels. In addition, there are set measures that limit the harmful effects of these toxic gases as well. For example, steam is usually filtered of the harmful gases before it is let into the turbines, making it somewhat less harmful to the environment. While it may be expensive to initially set up a geothermal energy plant, its contribution to clean energy cannot go unnoticed.

Presently, the main downside to geothermal energy generation in comparison with another renewable source of energy like solar energy is the fact that it's not available in all areas. As such, not everyone can reap the benefits of geothermal energy in their countries. However, it may not take long before developing countries that shied away from geothermal energy production come to terms with the fact that it is a far cleaner and more reliable renewable source of energy.

Wind Energy

Wind energy is one of the most developed forms of renewable energy, and it ideally revolves around the kinetic energy that is produced because of the effect of air currents. During a sunny day, heat from the sun warms up the air which gets lighter until it rises above cold air. The endless cycle between warm air rising to the top and cool air moving to the bottom is what in turn creates wind.

​How Wind Energy is Produced

Wind power is harnessed using wind turbines. These turbines are typically large motor blades attached to a generator which are placed on a long support stand. Physically, they look like household fans, but the only difference is that while the fans use electricity to propel air, the turbines generate electricity when wind blows through the fans that are connected to the turbines. The wind energy is transformed from kinetic to mechanical energy which is then converted to electricity usable in homes. Also worth noting is that there are two ways of harvesting wind power.

1. Onshore Wind Farms

This means that the turbines are installed on land on a favorable landscape for wind harvesting. The main advantage of onshore harvesting is that it's a lot cheaper since there's no complexity in installing of turbines. The main downside of onshore though, is the noise that comes with it. Turbines can get really noisy, and they have been known to cause discomfort for some people.

2. Offshore Wind Farms

This is where the turbines are located in the lake or sea to generate power to mainland. The main downside to this is the cost of setting up. The turbines are set up spanning a large area in the sea which makes it expensive to install. They'll need to be firm, to withstand the turbulent storms, to ensure that they always work properly and among other things, have a positive impact to the environment.

While the setup is costly, offshore wind turbines have better advantages. One, is the noise will be far away from homes meaning they won't affect people. Two, the death of birds and bats will be minimized. Three, since it's located in the sea, it's easier to harness since most of the landscape is flat unlike on land where there are terrains and hills, and even high-rise buildings which can reduce the amount of wind.

​​How Wind Energy is Stored

Wind, just like other renewable energy sources, supplies more energy than market demand. The main downside is that there are very few established ways to store wind energy for future use. First, is its unpredictability, especially in areas where wind is not always constant. As such, storage of the electric energy produced from wind will be paramount. This uncertainty, coupled with how it's a lot more powerful during the night than day, are some of the reasons to store power for later use. In areas where wind is constant, however, electric power generated from the turbines can be fed into the power grid directly.

In domestic cases, it's quite easy because there are lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries to store that extra power. These high-density batteries are increasingly getting advanced as the days go, making them easier to manage. Even at industrial level, companies have tried using large scale batteries to store energy, but the effects have not been so favorable. Cases of battery blow ups due to difference in voltage have been experienced. Also, batteries of this magnitude are expensive and hazardous to some extent not to mention they are not environment friendly (especially if they're disposed).

Despite that, there are some methods that industries are using to save large scale power:

1. Compressed Air Energy Storage

This is where excess power is heated and compressed to air to be stored in underground caverns or large tanks above the ground. The compressed air is burnt along with fuel to change it to mechanical energy which will then be used in generators as electrical energy when the demand for power arrives.

2. Hydrogen Fuel Generation

This works by producing hydrogen with excess power in order to burn it by combining with water through a process called electrolysis. This is a smart approach though the greatest drawback, like all the others, is the initial investment needed.

3. Pumped Hydro

This is where water is pumped upwards in order to use it downhill again. The main downside to this is the initial investment to be used and also the fact that it requires a hill or high ground where there's large amounts of wind and also a hydro power plant nearby or large water bodies. Even without water, hills and wind are almost mutually exclusive. Add the two mills needed (hydro and wind) for installation and you'll realize this is an expensive approach. This method is common in hydroelectric dams. While at the moment large scale storage of wind power is not stable, the future is filled with optimism since some companies are currently trying new ways to make it work.

Uses of Wind Energy

​1. Electricity Generation

The wind turbines have rotor blades which convert kinetic energy to mechanical energy through the rotor shaft and then to the generator. The energy is transferred as the rotor spins and the mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy in the generator. It's then transferred to the electrical company substations which step it up to a higher voltage for distribution to homes and institutions.

2. Pumping Water

Traditionally, windmills were used to pump water used for livestock and farming. Even in recent years, people still use them to pump water in communities and countries. The windmills used for pumping water are easier and more efficient than those used for electricity.

The wind propels the rotor blades which in turn move to produce motion or kinetic energy. This motion then facilitates the movement of a rod inside the well or borehole that pulls water into dedicated cylinders until the water is forced up the pipe and is ready to be fetched. Repetition of this process results in free-flowing water.

3. Transportation

Wind power has equally been crucial in transportation. Long ago when there were no turbine-powered ships, people used wind power to sail and navigate the sea. The trade winds released energy that propelled the ships and their cargo across oceans. In recent years, modern sailors have seen the benefits of using wind power too. They have installed large kites to act as propellers which save a lot of fuel in the long run.

4. Food Preparation

While in the past windmills were used to process grains like millet, in recent years they can be used to process foods in large scale for example wheat flour. Thanks to electricity and ease of installing several windmills, factories can now manufacture food in bulk in ease.

5. Sports

Several sports are propelled by wind for them to work. Sports like kite and wind surfing, sailing and kite boarding need to be in favor of the wind for you to practice. Some like kite surfing and sailing require stronger winds to enjoy the ultimate experience.

As you have noticed, you can use wind power in different ways. You can even use it to charge appliances in your home from small things like phones and laptops to bigger equipment like your lawnmower. If you have a stronger turbine which produces more power, then you can even use it for bigger things. Like solar, it's best to own a battery to store your energy for times when the wind speeds will be low.

Impacts of Wind Power to The Environment

Wind power is a clean renewable energy without effects associated with greenhouse gases such as coal. It is sustainable and friendly to environment and the effects associated don't cause any global warming. That said, the wind turbines have some negative impact on the environment.

​1. Bird and Bats Mortality

The first wind turbines that were installed cause a lot of death to birds and bats that flew around. This is because they didn't consider the rotating blades could have any negative impact to the birds. The modern wind turbines though, have put that into consideration and have predatory sensors installed to prevent the birds from getting close to them. While there are no estimated figures, it's presumed that those deaths are less than those caused by humans either by hunting and shooting.

​2. Change of Landscape 

Some people find lands with wind turbines to be beautiful while others find them another negative impact on the environment. They only see machines that are ruining the natural landscape. Turbines, especially in historical and tourist places, can be an eye sore since they're disrupting the normal view of the place. Since most wind farms are private, the places have even been set as tourist hotspots where you're taken a guided tour around. You can even find it's a camping and hiking venue where you'll enjoy some of your favorite activities. Turbines which are made of the same height and length and are aligned may have a more beautiful landscape than those which are placed spontaneously.

​3. Noise Pollution. ​​​​

It's estimated that a turbine in a 300m range will produce about 45dB which is slightly higher than the noise of a refrigerator. This means that if you're in a place closer to wind turbines, you'll be affected than someone who's 1.5km from a wind farm since at that distance the noise is barely audible. Some people reported to experience negative health effects that were caused by the turbine noise.

Engineers handled that and designed modern wind turbines to ensure that there's almost no noise made by turbines despite being close to your residence. They have sensors that measure the speed of wind so as to increase or decrease accordingly without necessarily producing a lot of noise.

4. Shadow Flicker and Reflection

This is when you're walking down the road then around you there are turbine blades rotating thereby affecting your eyes. The reflection, on the other hand, is when the blades reflect under the sun causes them to shine brightly and momentarily blind you. The changes in light intensity caused by the turbines is a bother to some people especially when the sun is too bright, and the blades are rotating fast. However, engineers easily solved this problem by choosing a better finish for turbine edges.

5. Loss of Habitat for Some Species

Since large amounts of land need to be cleared for those wind farms to be created, the previously existing animals are forced to move to a safer place. The displacement of these animals could make them highly exposed to their predators. On the flip side, the land used by wind farms could be used for other activities as well. Since over 90% is never used, it could be maximized for agriculture, for animal grazing or even just left as an open space.

6. Negative Effects for Air Traffic Control 

When the farms are set up near army bases the turbines can have negative impact since they may lose control over an aircraft due to loss of signal near the farm. This means that the wind farms have limits as to where they can be built to avoid overlap with other institutions.

Final Thoughts

While the negative impacts may make it seem like wind is not a great renewable energy, it helps to know that these are not effects of wind energy. These are the effects of the turbines which propel the wind. If technology is right, these effects are manageable and with time will improve. Some of them have already been corrected which makes us hopeful that the current problems facing the turbines will be non-existent in a few years.

Also, wind is an energy that can easily be substituted with other types of energy. For example, you may find that in your area it's sunny in some seasons and other seasons the wind is high. You can install both solar and wind systems to tap both of them when they're in high production.  This is great for the person who wishes to install the two types for maximum power harnessing.

Solar Energy

Residential solar energy has certainly not been a new thing, but it's not until recent years that most people started taking note of its advantages. The reasons have been varied ranging from wanting to reduce the carbon footprint in the environment and going the natural way with less pollution to reducing their electricity bills, which most people choose as the best. In some places, you're able to save as much as $300 per month in electricity bills which is quite a large amount over the long haul. If you're an aspiring solar energy homeowner and would like to know more before committing, below are some pointers to guide you.

How ​Solar Energy Works

For starters, it is worth mentioning that solar energy can be harnessed in two different ways. These could be the extraction of thermal energy which aids in processes such as cooking and water heating or it could be in electricity production. For the thermal energy, solar radiation is the key element whereas for electric energy production, light is of greater interest. Solar panels work by allowing particles of light from the sun called photons to knock off electrons from atoms which in turn generate an electric flow. Deep within solar panels are smaller units commonly called photovoltaic cells usually made of silicon. All these are linked up together such that with more exposure to the sun, more electric current can be generated from the solar panel which is then stored in a battery for later use. In home settings, inverters are used to convert the stored energy from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) which is what we normally use.

How ​Solar Energy Used Around Us

There are many ways you can use solar energy at home.

  • ​Powering Home Devices: The small devices at home that are presumed to consume almost no electricity do use a lot of it. Those phones, torches, power banks and even batteries can be charged using solar energy. However, solar energy could also power bigger things like your refrigerator. It all depends on how much energy you need at home.
  • ​Outdoor and Street Lighting: There are high chances that your street lights are powered by some form of renewable energy such as solar energy. In less urban areas, for example, it is far convenient to have street lights powered by solar energy directly. At home, people also use solar energy for powering outdoor electrical equipment such as security lights and even the electric fences.
  • ​Heating Water: Everyone cherishes a bath of warm water. When you have a large family, your electricity bill can skyrocket, especially if you are not relying on solar water heating and you have teenagers who cherish a long hot bath. With solar energy that bill becomes manageable, or even nonexistent, and your family continue to enjoy a good bath.
  • ​Solar Cooking: There are some solar cookers in the market which you can use to prepare your meals with. These cookers cook can be pretty sluggish as well, so don't be expecting to have your steak ready in the next few minutes. In fact, depending on the type of meal you're preparing, you might need hours to cook your meals properly. This could be ideal for camping events.
  • ​Supercharge Your Electric Car: If you have an electric car, you can always charge it after you're back home. This is very cost effective since the same energy you're using in your house is the same you're charging your car with.

​PROS

  • ​​Sustainable and Renewable
  • ​Low Maintenance
  • ​No Noise Pollution
  • Environment Friendly
  • Affordable
  • Cost Efficient in the Long-Term

​CONS

  • ​Requires Large Physical Space
  • ​​Energy Storage Is Expensive
  • ​​Cost of Installation is Expensive
  • ​Not Easily Installable by Everyone

How Many Panels Do You Need for Your House?

The cost of installing always varies from one person to another. This is because of different factors like the size of a house, the types of panels you want to use, how much energy you use in your household among other things. Things like the installation company you choose will also affect the total cost. Let's look at these factors in detail and what they really mean

1. Your Roof's Usable Surface Area

The shape and size of your house will determine how much you pay for set up. For example, a house with a flat roof which can accommodate large panels easily may require less tinier panels which leads to a cheaper cost. Equally, a house with a small usable area; either due to the shape of the roof or other factors, may require smaller panels which will translate to a more expensive cost since it'll require more of them.

2. How Much Energy

A house that uses 300KWh per month and a house that uses 1000KWh per month will be billed according to their energy usage. The amount of energy you use will be calculated for you during installation. On the other hand, you too can get an idea of how much energy you require with a simple calculation. Just take your electrical bills for at least the past 12 months and add all of them to get the total amount of electricity you use in a year. Divide this sum by 12 to know what's the average you spend in a month. You can go even further, by dividing the figure you get from above by 30 to get your daily average.

For example, if your annual energy is 4800KWh, you'll divide this by 12 to know how much you spend in a month. Which is 400KWh per month. To calculate how much energy you use in a day, you'll divide the 400KWh by 30 days and find out that your average usage per day is 13.3 KWh (Kilowatts per hour).

3. Weather in Your Area

If you live in a cloudy region, then there won't be a lot of sunlight hitting your solar panels. This would require you to have more panels to increase the surface area needed to harness the amount of power you need for your use.

4. Types of Panels You Use

Solar panels are made differently, and that means you would have to choose one that best suits your needs. If you're installing per square foot, the basic expected wattage is 2 Watts for every square foot. This means that a house of 1500 square feet will need about 3000 Watts. Depending on the type of panel used, this may equal 12-18 panels and translate to an average of 16 panels for the house. The price per watt is averagely $5.47. So, for a 1500sq foot roof, we would be looking at $16,400. Of course, this is a very subjective figure depending on the type of panels you use and even the company you hire. Some companies charge as much as $4,000 more. So before buying, compare the rates between installers in your area. It's best to remember that the company that can pay most for advertising doesn't necessarily mean it's the best.

Can You Install Your Own Panels?

It's understandable to ask this question considering that the price from accredited installers can seem high. If you have an experienced person who's skilled enough, he/she can help you with the sizing calculations, planning, and even installation. He/she could even design for you how you want to install the panels depending on the size of your roof. However, you are still encouraged to contact an accredited solar installer for wiring and metering of your energy consumption.

Conclusion

It's necessary to make a thorough analysis as before setting up your home solar system. When you're choosing a manufacturer, inquire whether they offer replacement for batteries and bulbs. This can go a long way because if you're committing to a long-term plan, you want to know how you'll relate with them sometime down the road. If they don't offer replacement, check your options should you choose to proceed with them. Also, it's necessary to check your home's location and landscaping.

Homes in smooth terrains which are not covered by shade or affected by weather will generate more power than homes which are covered by shade. Solar energy is ideal in places that experience lots of sunny weather. This means that places which experience the occasional sunlight or extreme weather changes may need alternate options.

Hydroelectric Energy

Hydropower is perhaps the most common and widely-used source of renewable power. Because of this, hydroelectric power has been known for more than 2000 years. During that time, ancient Greeks would use water wheels to grind grains to flour – a practice that the Chinese dynasty of 150AD did as well. Though rudimentary, it paved way for the first conception of the movement of turbines thanks to the kinetic energy present in free-flowing water.

Centuries later there was no innovation in hydro power until about the 1750s when French engineer Bernard Forest de'Belidor wrote a book about hydro (L'Architecture Hydraulic), but most people still fancied using mechanical hydropower for milling and pumping. However, in 1832, Michael Faraday took it upon himself to conceptualize the modern-day hydroelectric power. It took more than 50 years for his invention to come to fruition. It took 46 years for William George Armstrong from Northumberland, England to take up Faraday's work and use hydroelectric power to light up his art gallery with the help of a single lamp.

After that successful project, countries begun constructing dams to produce large scale electricity to power the ever-increasing factories. In 1882, the first hydroelectric power station was constructed in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA. The station produced 12.5KW. In the next 2-3 years there were about 45 stations in USA and Canada and 7 years later (1889) the stations increased to more than 200 in US alone.

Most countries continued to construct stations because of increasing demand, and in 1905 China constructed a 500KW power plant. The Hoover Hydroelectric Dam in Colorado was built in 1936 producing 1,346MW which at that time had the highest capacity. The production was increased to 2,080 MW later on but was surpassed by the Grand Coulee Hyrdoelectric Dam in 1942 which had a capacity of 6,809MW.

During these years more hydroelectric stations were set up around the world and in 1984 the largest dam in the world, Itaipu, was constructed in Brazil with a power capacity of 14,000MW. In 2008, China built the Three Gorges Dam which has a capacity of 22,500MW making it the largest hydroelectric dam in the world in terms of energy capacity.

With the figures mentioned above, it is easy to see why hydroelectric power is the most widely used renewable energy. China has the largest hydroelectric production with almost half of all world power coming from the Asian country. Some countries such as Paraguay and Brazil heavily rely on hydroelectric power such that 85% of their electricity is powered by the dams. In the US, 17% of its electricity is powered by hydro energy which also covers 70% of their renewable energy.

How ​Hydroelectric Energy Is Generated

Since it relies on the kinetic energy of moving water, hydro power stations are constructed along large water bodies like falls, rivers and lakes. A dam is constructed on one side to raise the level of water then it's blocked by a gate to prevent it from rising over the top. Down below, a small entrance is created through the dam so that the water passes through it in high pressure.

A turbine is installed at this point so that as the water passes through it moves the turbines which are connected to a generator which turns the hydro energy to electrical energy. The electrical energy is then ready to be transmitted to substations and finally to our homes as electricity. Back at the dam, after the water passes through the turbines, it simply goes back to the river and flows as usual.

Reasons for Fast Growth of Hydroelectric Power

1. Demand from Rising Economies

Rising economies are heavily investing in construction projects, and despite the huge sums they keep pouring for the development of their countries, they also require cheap and reliable sources of energy. Hydroelectric power gives them just that. Even though initial costs may be high, it is usually worth the effort because such projects are usually long-term and their return on investments will bring positive results in their countries. This is true because hydropower is cheaper than the oil and gas and the because it is readily available. These are just some of the reasons why most countries go the hydroelectric power way.

2. Support from World Bank and International Funding Institutions

Since most high-profile investors are also vying for green energy production, top banks and institutions have been lending money for the development of hydroelectric power making most projects to pick up pace. More than $2 billion has been spent on such projects to ensure the projects are fully funded. This has ensured most projects, especially those that had stagnated to pick up and be completed thereby producing power and promoting the economies of those countries.

3. Multilateral Goals and Agreements

There have been several international summits and conferences to create awareness about hydroelectric energy. In these meetings, the benefits and disadvantages of hydropower have always been highlighted in contrast to other sources of energy such as nuclear energy. Since the pros surpass the cons, the agreements have concluded that hydropower is worth the shot. Some of the notable reasons highlighted include the fact that it is renewable, cheap, and widely accepted.

This means that it will never get depleted and has very little carbon emissions on top of being sustainable. It's also easier to construct compared to others like geothermal. In addition, since it is used in most countries all over the world, it is also widely accepted unlike other sources of energy such as nuclear energy which will be met with skepticism especially since disasters such as the Chernobyl accident could always happen again.

4. Trade from Developing Countries

When countries agree to trade, there is an increase in business activities which leads to increased demand for electricity especially in the manufacturing sector. The need to supply the growing industries with power has enabled them to turn to hydroelectric power as an environment-friendly source of electricity. Some countries request for international funding and others choose to build from their own pockets. Regardless, such trades are the driving factors for the increasing hydro power stations around the world.

The Future Outlook

For the most part, there's a lot of positive outlook due to untapped potential in most countries. Reports show that 71% of Europe has not yet tapped its hydroelectric power while in North America and South America, these figures stand at 75% and 79% respectively. Asia-Pacific region follows next with 82% and 95% of untapped power in both Africa and Middle East. That amounts to an average of 83% of global hydroelectric power which remains untapped. From this it's safe to say that even 60% of the energy is enough to power the whole world.

Despite this though, some countries have little growth due to having utilized a lot of their energy reserves already. A country such as Switzerland has already tapped 88% and Mexico follows with 80%. Other countries which use hydroelectric in large amounts include Norway, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Paraguay and Brazil. These countries rely on hydropower for up to 85% for their electricity.

Currently, hydroelectric power supplies almost 20% of the world's electricity needs and accounts for 70% of all renewable energy sources. North America and Europe are projected to have a slower rate than other parts of the world in future generation of hydro power. This is mainly because they have utilized more than the rest of the world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that by 2050 the world will be able to produce 15,000 Terawatts per hour (TWh) if current production is tripled.

Asia is poised to experience the highest growth in future with countries such as China, Brazil and India being on the leaderboard. Some countries in South East Asia are also experiencing substantial development. These countries include Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia which is the 6th largest global producer of hydroelectric energy. Indonesia has a potential to supply 0.39 million Gigawatts per hour (GWh) annually.

China produces highest amount of hydropower but utilizes 41% of its reserves. It has a capacity to produce 1.3 million GWh annually and India which is the second largest at 21% has reserves capable to produce 0.5 million GWh annually. Russia, on the other hand, has the highest power potential in the world and only utilizes 10% of its 1.5 million GWh annual potential. Sadly, Africa is projected to experience a slow growth in hydro power generation and the larger source of its electricity will still come from oil and natural gas in coming years.

Challenges Facing Hydroelectric Power Generation

It is apparent that hydro energy is important in many societies around the world, and it carries a lot of benefits with it. A good example is the Three Gorges Dam in Yangtze river, Hubei province in China. The power plant stretches over a 2.4Km piece of land and produces 84.7 TWh annually, but it was initially created to control floods that destroyed property worth $24 billion.

The production of electricity was thus a bonus point in addition to favorably changing the climate of the region. However, the Chinese dam wasn’t without problems. Millions of people had to relocate and lots of properties destroyed. Other challenges that hydroelectric stations face (and affect future growth) include:

1. Potential Shortage in Technical Skills

So many power plants are being developed all over the world. Places like SE Asia which are constructing many at a go are experiencing shortage of skilled people to work with while the demand for more stations is increasing.

2. Long Decision-Making Is Needed to Receive Permission

There are a lot of regulatory bodies and authorities that determine how the power plants will be constructed. Getting that permission to build takes a lot of time since it's not until a firm gets access that it can move along and build a power plant.

3. Expensive to Install and High Risk

There are uncertainties in building a hydroelectric station and for these large-scale projects the cost is too daunting since most of the costs are upfront. After it's built the cost of operation and maintenance is decreased. The high risks associated are due to the fact the return investments are not clearly outlined until after construction which makes investors wary.

4. Lack of Investment

This is another challenge that firms wishing to build power plants have to face and one that affects the future of hydro. Some regions, especially in Africa, have low receptivity to investors which hinders the growth of this renewable source. Other ways this happens is when funds run low mid-level and no investors are willing to pitch in.

5. Difficulty to Manage Social and Environmental Effects

A case like the millions of people who were displaced in China when Three Gorges Dam was being constructed is among the many challenges that faces regions around dams. People will be forced to relocate, and the nearby forests will have to be cut down to create space for construction.  Also, the fact that animals get displaced from their habitat is something environmentalists have questioned. Equally, there is also the risk of floods which can come about when a dam gives in.

6. Potential Impact of Climate Change

Different regions face climatic issues in different ways. For example, despite having the highest power production, the Three Gorges Dam is sometimes outperformed by the Itaipu dam between Brazil and Paraguay. This is because there are some seasons where the lower water levels result in a low power output whereas Itaipu boasts a constant water supply. Drought and unclean water are other issues faced by residents near hydroelectric power plants and they threaten the future growth of hydro energy.

The issues outlined above can be solved by proper planning and with improved innovations. With the highly positive outlook in most regions in the world, then it's no doubt that these issues will have to be solved before moving forward. But despite the challenges, hydroelectric energy is projected to grow by 3-4% yearly till year 2050. This is a sign that the benefits of the energy far surpass the challenges facing geothermal energy, and that is why hydropower continues to dominate as the most preferred renewable source of energy.

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