Hydropower is a renewable and sustainable energy resource, applying various technologies in a variety of forms, so its power remains largely untapped. The potential held by hydropower presents an exciting opportunity for businesses and consumers looking to reduce their environmental impact and become more energy efficient. Onshore, or offshore, hydropower promises to revolutionize clean, green energy – but only if we can overcome some of the obstacles standing in its way, which we will address in this article. This guide will look at how sustainable energy developers are unlocking the vast potential of onshore hydropower to create a more secure renewable energy future.
Did You Know that Hydropower is the Largest Source of Renewable Energy?
Hydropower is a form of renewable energy that harnesses the power of running water created by rivers, streams, and waves to generate electricity. While wind and solar energy often receive the media spotlight, hydropower was responsible for 31.5% of total utility-scale renewable electricity generation in the U.S. in 2021 and is the largest source of renewable electricity employment worldwide.
Hydropower works by diverting flowing water generated by a river, stream, or waves into a penstock, or a pipeline, guiding pressurized water flow into a turbine. The force of the flowing water turns the turbine blades, generating mechanical energy that is then converted into electrical energy through an electrical generator. This generated electricity can then be distributed for public use or stored in batteries for future use.
The potential of onshore hydropower is immense and could provide more than enough power for many countries if it were properly developed and utilized. It already produces over twice as much energy as wind and over four times as much as solar. And pumping water up a hill, aka “pumped storage hydropower”, comprises well over 90% of the world’s total energy storage capacity. With proper use of undiscovered global hydropower resources, the potential for electricity generation is monumental for countries looking to capitalize on this clean and efficient energy source.
What Makes an Energy System Sustainable?
When considering deploying a large-scale renewable energy system, one must consider multiple factors that convey whether or not that system is truly sustainable. Does it operate cleanly? Does it include a responsible supply chain and impact on the global footprint? Does it have a manageable waste stream? Does it work at a level of commercial efficiency? Is it a net positive business venture that will eventually be able to operate free of the need for government subsidies? What is the afterlife of the technology – will it create contaminated land or toxic waste?
A leading renewable energy company Diamond Infrastructure Development, Inc., has been able to convey those metrics as they search for the next viable system to bring to market. Given these critical considerations, wind and solar have been deemed impractical and unsustainable in a review of their impact on the rare earth metals supply chain, usage of land mass, toxic waste afterlife, and difficulty to scale. Hydropower systems consistently display their superiority in overall lifecycle cost, environmental impact, ease of maintenance, and reliability.
Hydropower is one of the most reliable and cost-efficient sources of renewable energy available. The technology behind onshore hydropower has advanced significantly in recent years, making it even more viable as an energy source. In operation, it produces no air pollution or greenhouse gasses, so it does not contribute to climate change. In terms of cost savings, generating electricity from onshore hydropower tends to be much less expensive than traditional methods such as coal and natural gas. Hydropower also eliminates the need for fuel imports, which can help reduce costs even further in countries with limited access to oil and gas resources. And since there are often no additional expenses related to waste disposal or environmental regulations associated with onshore hydroelectricity generation, these projects tend to have a meager ecological impact overall. In this category, emission-free, land-based wave power systems are considered the most feasible replacement energy systems relative to other “renewable” technologies such as wind and solar.
Challenges Facing the Development of Onshore Hydropower
As we’ve discussed, hydropower is an essential source of renewable energy – it is a reliable and cost-effective way to generate electricity and can play a vital role in helping us meet our environmental goals. However, there are also some challenges facing the development of onshore hydropower that need to be addressed.
While dams in bodies of water can be decent sources of power, hydropower plants require access to large amounts of water, which means they typically need to be built near rivers or other bodies of water. This can create challenges in areas where land availability is limited or expensive, as well as in areas with fragile ecosystems or high levels of biodiversity. In addition, hydropower plants can significantly impact the environment by altering natural water flows and potentially disrupting local wildlife habitats.
How Developers are Overcoming Obstacles to Unlock the Potential of Onshore Hydropower
Can a sustainable hydropower system exist without the pitfalls of dams and reservoirs?
Diamond Infrastructure Development, along with SeaDog Systems, Inc., and Global Oceanic Designs, led by renowned inventor and entrepreneur Kenneth Welch Jr., who has developed infrastructure-level technologies that revolutionize the efficiency of hydropower systems for the past decade, have been developing a suite of strategies to address that challenge. Their centerpiece is a wave carousel that harnesses energy from the ocean’s waves, producing pressurized water that can be used in a variety of fluid-power applications, particularly driving turbines and generators that produce electricity. It provides hydropower without the pitfalls of dams. Their energy carousel is eco-friendly and sourced from conventional materials that are fully recyclable.
The Seadog Wave Carousel was initially designed to operate in the ocean; however, working within the sea presents numerous challenges to reliability due to the intensity of conditions and the highly corrosive nature of saltwater. So, Mr. Welch reached a novel solution – create the means to manufacture waves onshore using constructed wave pools. Removing the weather uncertainty by utilizing wave pumps within a confined and controlled tank, they may have cracked the code on onshore hydropower in their current research station- in Willis, Texas.
Many factors would make this system a game-changer – the system concept employs the energy mechanism of low volatility. In the event of a breakdown, or loss of containment, the consequences would be non-toxic. Additionally, the technology is more so operable and maintainable given accessibility due to its location, and the design components are simple, as are electrical safety control systems. Their operating life is on the same scale as hydroelectric dams, using the cleanest form of energy generation. While solar, wind, and fossil-fired power plants last 10-40 years, these systems can last centuries.
Overall, while there are challenges facing the development of onshore hydropower projects, they can still be overcome with careful planning, strong community engagement, and practical implementation if we want to secure a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.
Developers utilizing innovative technologies like the onshore wave pump could improve efficiency in hydropower operations and maintenance and can also be used with automated control systems that optimize performance while minimizing costs associated with operation and maintenance. By bringing offshore technologies into controlled, onshore environments, developers can better manage the complexities of hydropower development and ensure their projects remain profitable for many years.