Hydro Power; the end or here to stay?

With resent efforts to promote the tear-down of Hetch Hetchy dam and restore the flooded valley, one must ask why, and not only in the sense of resurrection of the lost valley.

With the approach of global warming, we can expect a continued decrease in snow pack levels. Future precipitation levels are as of yet unknown. If decreased, we need all available storage to last through dry seasons. If increased, we need storage to prevent catastrophic flooding. Above all, with global warming, the snow pack will be replaced by rain, effectively removing our snow pack water storage, and increasing our need for alternative storage.

From the electricity grid point of view, Hetch Hetchy, when water is available, provides a robust predictable and dispatchable power source with no greenhouse gas emission. In addition, the system can also be used to store electricity/energy on a short-term basis through “pump-up” technology. Pump-up is equivalent to having access to a gigantic battery, and is a key component in stabilizing the electric grid. This is especially needed as we introduce alternative and unpredictable power sources such as wind and to some extend solar power.

There’s no question that California hydro power dams have caused severe environmental harm. Almost 3000 miles worth of upset creek/river habitat. But if you compare that to the added safety of flood control, predictable water supply, and reliable and clean energy supply, the end result should favor our dams. We have seen experimentation with fish ladders, and forced water release to preserve smelt populations. Surely there must be more mitigating ideas we can study and introduce.

The bottom line must be this; we need dams and water storage systems. They are a cornerstone of our future survival. Removing dams to restore ecosystems amounts to nothing but a utopian notion.

2 thoughts on “Hydro Power; the end or here to stay?

  1. Priscila

    All power sources have dacwbraks. The two you mention, like nuclear, are relatively clean, which is a plus.Hydro is very cheap for the amount of energy we get, but our rivers are basically all dammed up already there isn’t a lot more hydropower we can get.Solar is one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity on a utility scale, but could be the cheapest way to generate electricity on a homeowner scale, at least for many urban homes. Unless one has a stream running through their property to run a water wheel, or strong steady wind, the other choices for getting power are using a gas- or oil-powered generator, or buying retail electricity from the grid. The generator will cost more per kWh over the life of the system, and the grid electricity could be more or less expensive, depending on where one lives. At the moment, the grid is usually cheaper, but not in all parts of the country.

    1. mogens Post author

      Yep, you are absolutely right. Regarding California installed hydro capacity; it’s interesting to note that given unlimited water supply, we have enough turbine capacity to provide 50% of annual California electricity usage.

      Solar is still an expensive option at the wholesale level, but has tremendous potential. If you were to plaster a app 600 square mile (20 x 30 miles, 30 x 50km) area with today’s standard PV panels, you would on an annual basis generate enough energy to meet the annual California electricity demands. Try to pencil out such a farm on a California map. It’s insignificant. Clearly nobody would in his right mind consider that today, but it tells us of the solar PV potential. This is going to happen. Just let the technology mature.


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