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Power Technology

Hoover Dams For Lilliput: Does Small Hydroelectric Power Have a Future? 302

Posted by timothy
from the plenty-of-room-at-the-bottom dept.
New submitter MatthewVD writes "Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker, author of Before The Lights Go Out, writes that the era of giant hydroelectric projects like the Hoover Dam has passed. But the Department of Energy has identified 5,400 potential sites for small hydro projects of 30 MWs or less. The sites, in states as dry as Kansas, represent a total 18,000 MW of power — enough to increase by 50 percent America's hydro power. Even New York City's East River has pilot projects to produce power from underwater turbines. As we stare down global warming and peak oil, could small hydroelectric power be a key solution?"
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Hoover Dams For Lilliput: Does Small Hydroelectric Power Have a Future?

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  • Economies of scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gazoogleheimer (1466831) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:33AM (#39484921) Homepage
    Small hydro is nothing new. The state of Georgia has something like fifty or sixty small hydro sites, and they barely make any electricity -- as those stated in the article. The problem is, however, that hydroelectric power -- even without dams -- is fairly ecologically disturbing. Not only that, but you have to maintain it. Why would you want to have to maintain 5400 power plants that each only make less than 30MW? Yes, it's about four or five thousand households, but that's also about a thirtieth of an average coal plant. There's no incentive to do this. Your ROI is low, your maintenance is high (and difficult)...particularly when chemical belchers like Plant Scherer can exist, which produce upwards of three and a half gigawatts. They aren't trendy, but I've yet to see a conclusive argument against breeder reactors.
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#39485105) Homepage Journal

      The argument against breeder reactors is that you need a lot less nuclear fuel, so that's not good for the people who dig it up and sell it. I can't find another one, anyway. Follow the money.

      You're 100% right that medium-sized hydro is a bad solution, however. What we need is more MICRO hydro setups, which don't affect fish and other life because of where they're sited and how they're installed.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:57AM (#39485253)

        What we need is less people (i.e. less babies). All of these problems like scarce energy, high pollution, and dwindling water supplies wouldn't exist if the North American population was only 16 million (1800). Or even 85 million (1900).

        • by jdastrup (1075795) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:04PM (#39485331)
          Now that is A Modest Proposal...
        • by BoRegardless (721219) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:11PM (#39486403)

          "Less people" is fine later, but right now, many people can generate their own power on a small creek. It doesn't take much to support one house. The generators are inexpensive and the efficiency doesn't have to be high as that is not the most important feature for home use. I grew up on a small creek where a floating water wheel (or whatever you want to call it) could easily produce enough power for a house and not affect the creek in any measurable way.

          I agree on population, except...politicians have made so many promises to deliver goodies to future citizens, that failure to grow population will literally cause a revolution when the money runs out as the the population seriously slows or sinks. Hence the desire by some politicians to want to let in foreigners without going through any supervised immigration process.

          Social Security (an oxymoron if there ever was one) is merely a promise to pay older people by taking cash from younger people...who are declining as a % of the older population. Medicare is the same. Citizens have come to view these goodies as a "right", but in fact they are laws that can be changed or repealed...and if they are not, there will be inflation that collapses the purchasing power of retirees.

          Europe is in the midst of near bankruptcy in 4-5 countries (Greek debt holders will get only about 25% on their bonds...how about that for retirees who invested in 'safe' Greek bonds) SIMPLY because they promised more than they can deliver!

          SOLUTION: Do not rely on the government to save you or your family. Save, invest and grow your own little community as best you can. That is the American way that always led to success.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by roman_mir (125474)

          Nonsense. People are NOT a drain on a system if the system does not turn them to be a drain.

          The system that allows the people to be free and to fulfil their own needs allows for the people to provide for themselves, this is a natural consequence of free market - the more demand there is for something the more supply will be provided. People find way to create more supply when there is more demand and if they can't find the supply, there will be a natural decrease of population (this is seen in European co

        • by khallow (566160)

          All of these problems like scarce energy, high pollution, and dwindling water supplies wouldn't exist if the North American population was only 16 million (1800). Or even 85 million (1900).

          Sure, it'd be less overall impact on the environment, but those problems would still exist because impact on the environment is only a part of those problems.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:04PM (#39489773)

          What we need is less people (i.e. less babies).

          If you look at global population statistics [wrsc.org], there's an inverse correlation between industrialization and population growth. The vast majority of population growth is happening in undeveloped countries, while economically developed countries have close to zero and in some cases negative population growth (they are shrinking in population).

          So what you're describing is a symptom, not the problem in itself. Economic development seems to take care of the population growth problem all by itself, without any need for forced sterilization or one child per couple rules.

      • by dmatos (232892) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:33PM (#39485801)

        I agree on the micro-hydro setups. This winter I stayed at a resort in northern Ontario that has a 20kW turbine on site. It's the only electricity that's available there. Privately owned and maintained.

        Little-to-no damage to the habitat, because the resort is situated between two lakes that have a level difference of about 6 feet naturally.

        Of course, it's rare to find locations like that where low-impact turbines could be installed, but we should capitalize on them whenever we can.

      • by ngg (193578)

        The argument against breeder reactors is that you need a lot less nuclear fuel, so that's not good for the people who dig it up and sell it. I can't find another one, anyway. Follow the money.

        That's one argument. Another is that they encourage nuclear proliferation because (in some designs) the spent fuel can be reprocessed into either new fuel or weapons-grade fissile material. Other nations might have a stronger desire to start a breeder program if they saw them being used in first-world countries. A rogue nation could, in principle, divert the output of a breeder reactor to a weapons program (which would be bad). Is this a good argument? Heck, I don't know. There are certainly other fir

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Agreed. Replacing oil with a plant-based fuel (ethanol, biodiesel) makes a lot more sense. And use solar roofs on homes for electricity. Live off what the sun gives us, as our ancestors did, rather than the dwindling supply of dead plant matter.

      BTW I think fuel cell cars are a deadend. They burn hydrogen, which last time I checked does not exist in nature. You can't just drill a hole and find hydrogen there.

      • by mhajicek (1582795) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:01PM (#39485285)
        Fuel cell cars are an answer to the problem of energy storage, not energy source. High performance batteries are expensive, and hard on the environment to produce. You can make hydrogen with clean energy almost as easily as you can charge a battery with it, and you can transfer hydrogen faster than electricity.
        • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:24PM (#39485611)
          You can transfer it quickly, but storage is a pain, and from water to hydrogen and back to water, the best returns aren't even hitting 50%. Nearly all of our hydrogen is produced by cracking petroleum, because electrolysis is just so inefficient.
          • Black Swans: Those events are not as rare as once thought, because smart people are actually getting results.

            Several technology breakthroughs have shown promise in articles in Wired and Technology Review in the last week or two.

            One was using nanoforrest crystal structures in water with sunlight to produce Hydrogen...obviously as a first step to direct sunlight conversion of water.

            The second one was the use a new novel chemical means of storing hydrogen at low pressure.

            Both of the above announcements were n

            • by wagnerrp (1305589)

              The second one was the use a new novel chemical means of storing hydrogen at low pressure.

              Got any links for that? The closest I heard to something actually useful was storage in dried ammonium salts, but I've not seen anything further done with that in years.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Replacing oil with a plant-based fuel (ethanol, biodiesel) makes a lot more sense."

        Have you done the math? Replacing, say, half of the demand for oil with either of those would not be practical with current agricultural techniques. It's not that they aren't viable -- they are -- but the sheer *size* of the energy demand is the problem. Heck, whale oil was a renewable resource. It could have lasted forever. The problem was the quantities demanded. It's not easy to replace an average of 85 million barr

        • All we need is to resurrect Stan Meyers and Nicola Tesla. Between the two of them, we would be working on static electricity delivered free and water also delivered to us free. Possibly the two most important inventors of recent times... everyone should know their names and what hey did for mankind. Chances are, if you find a great way to solve mankinds biggest problems for free, you should run and hide or consider offing yourself. I think the reality is, batteries are expensive, gas is expensive, nucle
        • by rickb928 (945187)

          FWIW, Oil is assumed to be a plant-based fuel.

          But growing food for fuel is stupid. Brazil will get away with this until they get hungry, which will happen one day.

      • by egamma (572162)

        You can't just drill a hole and find hydrogen there.

        Really? Whenever I turn on my shower millions of di-hydrodgen oxide molecules come out.

      • No, replacing oil with plant based fuel DOES NOT make sense. It doesn't scale. It wastes water. It's only useful in certain edge case environments. Just like small scale hydro.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:20PM (#39485539)
        Replacing oil with a plant-based fuel makes no sense. The best plants convert around 10% of light into growth, of which only a fraction is recovered as fuel during harvesting, and only a fraction of that is recovered as usable energy when that fuel is consumed. Even lousy consumer-grade photovoltaics make far better use of sunlight than plants. If you want to spend gobs of money replacing our existing petroleum infrastructure, why not spend it on cheap, high capacity, powerful batteries?
      • Yknow, other than the fact that Hydrogen Is the most abundant element in the known universe
    • by egamma (572162)
      Your math is wrong. 1MW= 1000 households [answers.com]

      5400 sites*15MW (since it says 'less than') *1000 homes per megawatt=81 million homes. That's quite a lot of homes.

  • by ledow (319597)

    When total energy required on the order of TWatts, you want to boast about 18GWatt being more than EVERYTHING already out there, hydro-wise?

    No. Really. The ecological damage for that pittance of power just isn't worth it.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#39485101)

      When total energy required on the order of TWatts, you want to boast about 18GWatt being more than EVERYTHING already out there, hydro-wise?

      No. Really. The ecological damage for that pittance of power just isn't worth it.

      You're doing it wrong. You need to look at opportunity cost and give more than a vague comparison. The correct question from an environmental perspective is, "How does the environmental impact of 18 GW of micro-hydro compare to the environmental impact of the 18 GW of power that will be generated through other means in its absence?"

      You fall into the trap of thinking any solution that isn't a silver bullet is useless. Sadly, this is how most decision making is done. Hell, your comment is probably better reasoned than most energy decisions made by governments in the form of legislation or about governments in the form of voting.

      • by vlm (69642)

        and/or the environmental impact of making the economy 18 GW poorer. So... now we have less profit, so we can't afford to donate to the nature preserve fund, and people can't afford environmental luxuries if they can't eat, so lets just pave over that swamp, I mean wetland, instead of making it a nature preserve.

        Supposedly economic activity creates environmental damage. But I drive thru nice suburbs and slums in my commute, and the slums are literally an open air dump. Somehow I don't think growing slums

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jmorris42 (1458) *

      > When total energy required on the order of TWatts, you want to boast about 18GWatt...

      This. If hydro is currently producing 6% of our electricity, increasing that by 50% gets you all the way up to 9% but the cost in construction and maintaining so many small installs will dwarf the benefit. To borrow someone else's phrase, "Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

      > The ecological damage for that pittance of power just isn't worth it.

      While I do agree in this case, note that the enviros ALWAYS

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      What ecological damage? You mean the "damage" of there being a lake there? Maybe we should drain all the natural lakes because they're all causing "damage?"

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      TW, singular, not plural. Our current electrical production capacity in the US is right at about 1TW, with yearly average consumption running roughly half that value. That's 2% of our peak output, or 4% of our average, and they're only talking about capacity in the state of Kansas, a particularly dry and flat state generally not considered at all conducive to hydroelectric generation.
  • by ericloewe (2129490) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:33AM (#39484925)

    Until everyone realizes that the only short/medium term solution is nuclear, we'll need everything we can get that isn't fossil. Especially coal, but natural gas isn't much better.

    Oil won't get much cheaper anytime soon, and will probably get more expensvie. If that happens, this kind of project will be much more appealing.

    • Want a solution, how about a little efficiency. Doubling efficiency is a no brainier. Every major energy driver has solutions to double efficiency. Wind and solar costs are dropping like a stone and utility scale energy storage is ready for deployment (see Gates' new gravity storage investment). We just need to build in high expectation for efficiency like we have for semiconductor technology. There is a drastic difference between coal and natural gas in terms of atmospheric impact. Gas also has the a
      • I suggest you use the HTML paragraph tags to format your text and improve readability. It can be a pain, but it's worth it.

        Natural gas shares the main issues of oil and coal: pollution and limited (very large but still limited) supply.

        Nuclear power can be made much safer than any fossil, hydroelectric, wind and even some solar power plants. It's a matter of cost. If you keep the bean counters away and just safeguard against anything you can think of (using reason, of course), you'll end up with something th

    • a) We don't use oil for producing power. We use oil, almost exclusively for transportation.
      b) Coal is a fossil fuel. So is natty gas.
      c) How the hell did this get modded +5 insightful?
  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:36AM (#39484967) Journal

    The age of massive hydroelectric power installations is only beginning. It most likely won't be dominated by Americans, but it will dwarf that which exists now.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Regarding the subjectline, I was surprised that a google search indicated via linkedin that she lives in Minnesota. I would have guessed California. Usually you hear people trash talking hoover dam because they live out west where water is scarce, and hoover is "legendary" for being pretty close to running out of water and having to shut down "soon", therefore since the whole world revolves around CA, that means all hydroelectric plants will be shutting down soon.

      Out east we have more water than we know w

      • Well depends on where in Minnesota she is. She might be living out in the norther suburbs of the twin cities and because one of the major lakes there is shrinking [kstp.com] thus she might think that all the lakes are drying up. Here in Minnesota we have plenty of water even in the drier areas in the south western part of the state where still have lots of smaller lakes, streams, sloughs, and swamps.
  • by dthanna (1294016) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:38AM (#39484977)

    I know of existing dams in the US - several on the Rock River (north-central Illinois, U.S.A.) - Rockton, Rockford, Dixon, Byron, Sterling/Rock Falls, etc. that were built years ago by Commonwealth Edison for min-hydro power. The dams are still there to provide floodwater control, but have been decom'd for electrical generation.

    Last time I looked, the dam in Dixon station still had generators in operation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_River_(Mississippi_River) [wikipedia.org]

    Now, I'm no civil engineer.. but if you already have a dam, and the environmental impact associated with it, why not us the head you have to generate some? Yea, your not getting the 200-300' head that you would like, but there is still a lot of potential energy to be captured out of the 20' 30' head out of one of these.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:39AM (#39485003)

    Dear editors/submitters for Slashdot stories:

    Please eliminate the stupid leading/inflammatory/etc. questions at the end of the summaries. Anyone with an IQ higher than that of a grape has already mentally asked themselves far more insightful questions than the ones posed at the end of the summaries. You are just making yourselves look like idiots by asking them.

    Sincerely,
    An Old AC

  • Energy produced = volume of water flowing * square of the distance drop, cut your vertical drop by 1/2, your power output drops to 25%.

    Interesting corollary with the latest simulator findings on fusion power... it might break even at 26M amps input, it gets really interesting at 60M amps, and better and better from there. It doesn't work yet because we haven't made one big enough yet.

    • Sorry, I was wrong about the squared term (in hydro power from height, it's linear, but it is a product of the height * flow)... the fusion simulations did quote output varying as the square of the input current....

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Potential energy varies linearly with height, not with the square of height. Put differently, pressure varies linearly with height, and power is flow rate * pressure, so power varies linearly with height.

      Mathematics aside, even if you were correct, I would say "so what?" If the potential is still measured in gigawatts, then it's probably worth looking into. I'll agree it's not a panacea, but it's something nonetheless.
      • Potential energy varies linearly with height, not with the square of height. Put differently, pressure varies linearly with height, and power is flow rate * pressure, so power varies linearly with height.

        Mathematics aside, even if you were correct, I would say "so what?" If the potential is still measured in gigawatts, then it's probably worth looking into. I'll agree it's not a panacea, but it's something nonetheless.

        Yeah, I caught myself on that just after hitting "Submit."

        Living in Florida, anytime I have looked into micro-hydropower it is the lack of vertical drop (or pressure) that kills it. For any reasonable water flow rate, I come up with total power figures like 6W.

  • Contained Hydro (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MountainLogic (92466) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:42AM (#39485043) Homepage
    There are many places such as irrigation channels where you can place micro turbines that will have no ill environmental effect as these do not support aquatic life. It looks like this was not included in the report. For example see hydrovolts.com/ for a unique hydro generator that does not need a damn. These can even be placed in the outflow from some sewage or industrial plants. Not big power, but lots of places you can wedge these in to add distributed generation into the grid - often at the ends of branches where it is needed the most.
    • Re:Contained Hydro (Score:5, Informative)

      by Scarred Intellect (1648867) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:04PM (#39485337) Homepage Journal

      There are many places such as irrigation channels where you can place micro turbines that will have no ill environmental effect as these do not support aquatic life. It looks like this was not included in the report.

      Irrigation canals DO support aquatic life. Where do you think they get the water from? Rivers.

      It isn't necessarily vital aquatic life, but then where do you draw the line on vital vs. non-vital life?

      The canals in Eastern Washington provide me with some of the best bow-fishing for carp in the region. Even the wasteways (surplus water from agricultural processes) have plentiful fish. And not just carp.

      They're basically diverted rivers. That being said, turbines placed in irrigation canals will have less impact than those placed in full rivers. But even the impact of a full hydroelectric facility is manageable. Take the Columbia River, we still have record salmon runs from time to time.

      One other hurdle with hydroelectric is that it is not considered renewable, so if there are mandates to require x% of electricity from renewable sources, hydro ain't gonna fit the bill due to lame liberals that deem is non-renewable.

      Being a fan of hydroelectric power, I'm well aware of the issues on both sides of the argument, and still favor it. But I think what you pointed out on the latter portion of your post needs to be made more public, as it is an even better solution.

      • Re:Contained Hydro (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MountainLogic (92466) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:27PM (#39485679) Homepage
        Scarred Intellect, fair enough on all points. Hydro was taken off the the table for counting as a renewable for two reasons. 1) They wanted to encourage new renewables to be built and not just count the old renewables and at the time that meant big hydro damns. Including old hydro in the accounting would have resulted in zero new renewables. 2) At the time the rules were codified, hydro was assumed to mean big damns and a certain end to northwest salmon runs. Technology and understanding evolves and there is always room for reevaluation. That said we have also had some near/true extinctions of a number of salmon runs. Even with hatcheries, the genetic diversity of salmon is not what it should be.
        • by PPH (736903)

          That said we have also had some near/true extinctions of a number of salmon runs. Even with hatcheries, the genetic diversity of salmon is not what it should be.

          But you are making a basic error in your logic here. Its not the salmon run that goes extinct or not. Its the species. The bad science promulgated by environmentalists; that habitat equals species has threatened the viability of a number of species (spotted owls and salmon) and eliminated a number of mitigation measures that could save them.

          Hatcheries are excellent tools for enforcing genetic diversity. Its trivially easy to cross breed salmon populations in hatcheries and plant them in new habitats. And t

      • The irrigation canals in southern Oregon cover hundreds of thousands of acres.. but their biggest cost is power, to run pumps.. (pretty flat land) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Project [wikipedia.org] however, it looks like they are trying to get some power project put along the canal.. (maybe to offset the costs of pumping) http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/documentShow.cfm?Doc_ID=8142 [usbr.gov]

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:43AM (#39485051)

    One of my biggest problems with the environmentalist "movement" (and, in fairness, it's really more a mish-mash of a bunch of somewhat different movements) is its propensity for embracing fashionable fads and then tossing them aside the second some new thing comes along. Hydro was once the darling of clean energy, but then someone started complaining about the poor fish not being able to spawn as good as before, and so it was tossed aside like some embarrassing stepchild--in favor of the current green stars-of-the-moment, wind and solar. This in spite of the fact that hydro has BY FAR the longest and most productive history of any of the green energy generators. There are still working dams out there today that have been generating electricity for close to a century (probably some over a century now).

    Makes me wonder how long it will be before someone finds fault with wind and solar and those get tossed aside for some new fad too.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:02PM (#39485295) Homepage Journal

      So you're saying that environmentalists change their opinions as new facts come to light? How dare they? Those flip-floppers!

      • by vlm (69642)

        Its a fashion choice rather than an engineering choice. Oh look, pink skirts are "in" this spring. No wait, throw those out, the new "in" thing is blue lacy skirts.
        If it was based on carefully reasoned decision making, then it would be wise of them to re-evaluate, but its the green equivalent of watching the Style cable channel therefore not respectable.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Hydro was once the darling of clean energy, but then someone started complaining about the poor fish not being able to spawn as good as before, and so it was tossed aside like some embarrassing stepchild--in favor of the current green stars-of-the-moment, wind and solar. This in spite of the fact that hydro has BY FAR the longest and most productive history of any of the green energy generators.

      Yes, I'm rather embarrassed myself to admit that for a long time I completely ignored the rather huge amount of habitat destruction a hydro dam represents. Habitat destruction being the biggest, most immediate conservation problem. Are you really shocked that "Hey,let's block up the rest of our waterways!" isn't a rallying cry for environmentalists?

      Makes me wonder how long it will be before someone finds fault with wind and solar and those get tossed aside for some new fad too.

      They already are known to have faults. Wind's impact is pretty light, and bird fatalities that were a problem in some early farms have been largely eliminated

    • by Bigby (659157)

      Hydro is by far the best out of all energy generation we use today. A nuclear plant can't last that long, has direct fueling costs, and low maintenance. A dam just has HUGE upfront real estate costs. Or in the case of Niagara Falls (4.4 GW), flow changes to a natural wonder.

  • One convenience of small hydro projects is that(if you are willing to accept lousy efficiency) they can be built with quite minimal technological resources. The hydraulic and mechanical side is classical era stuff and bolting on the electric half is 19th century physics and engineering.

    Larger systems demand substantially greater architectural expertise, if you don't want them to collapse a lot...
    • It may be simple, but it's not cheap. I live in SE Alaska, 100+ inches of rain per year. Steep fjord like valleys (actually they are fjords). So long as nothing is screwing up, we get 100% of our electricity from hydro. We have two generators, an 18 MW and a 10 MW system. Generators are several million dollars a pop. We have a plan to increase dam height to generate another 10 MW - at close to $100 million in costs (some if which will be used to replace 50 year old equipment).

      That's a lot of money.

      Che

  • My state government just spent millions removing dams, in order to restore the natural ecology of the streams and rivers, and protect the Bay. Now another distant government wants to put the dams back.

    Grrrr. This could be titled, 'Politicians waste money tearing dams up, and then putting them back.'

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      This could be titled, 'Politicians waste money tearing dams up, and then putting them back.'

      But just think how many more jobs you create that way.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Good point. I'll go round and start smashing windows. Then run for Congress on my exemplary job-creation record. ;-)

  • Stop DHMO (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hydro dams use a lot of DHMO which causes ecological disaster and is extremely dangerous if it spills.
    STOP DHMO NOW!!!

  • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:48AM (#39485143) Homepage

    Here in Norway we got more mountains and rain per square kilometer or per person the US could dream about - okay we have a cold climate too - but not even we are self-sufficient on hydro power or for that matter renewable power. Sure as fossil fuels run out they'll surely be built - just like wind, water, solar, geothermal, biofuel and everything else you can think of - but they won't add up to the current energy usage. This figure [wikipedia.org] pretty much says it all.

    • Same problem in SE Alaska (which looks suspiciously like Norway). Lots of hydro potential but it's rather expensive to build out. Problem with steep sided gorges is that it's hard to build damns on them, they tend to happen in the middle of nowhere and transmission lines over rugged terrain ain't cheap either.

      Now, when diesel is $10 / gallon everyone will be whistling a different tune, but here and now it's hard to get the money to go out an put these projects together.

  • The answer is no [wikipedia.org]
  • We had damn well better do it anyway or we're going to be much worse off than we could be. Anybody who can do arithmetic and use google should have figured out by now that the 160 exajoules added to the world's energy budget each year just by petroleum can't be replaced by "renewables." EVER. The numbers just don't work and can't be made to work (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubic_mile_of_oil [wikipedia.org]). Our best bets are nuclear and thorium and even their numbers are lousy.

    Bottom line? It's a lower energy future

  • James Howard Kunstler is a huge advocate of much more decentralized living -- essentially small town living with an emphasis on local agriculture, etc.

    If you have people living in a town of 1000 people near a river, small hydro seems to make sense -- that size of a town could probably get by with 10MW, which assumes 10kW per person average consumption, which I'd guess is probably a little high.

  • DO THE MATH! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:21PM (#39485555)

    The answer is a solid NO [ucsd.edu] .

  • by Strider- (39683) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:28PM (#39485699)

    Small scale hydro can make a heck of a lot of sense. I work with a small community high in the mountains of Washington State, where the primary power supply is a small scale hydro-electric generation system. The funny part is that this technology isn't "new"... The turbines and generators they're using have patent plates on them that read 10-04-86, and that's not 1986. Despite being easily 100 years old, the technology is still easy to maintain, and efficient. Based on the electrical output compared to the water flow, we figure this plant is about 80% efficient, which is pretty good.

    In the summer, the system will generate upwards of 250kW of power, which is more than adequate for the community. In the winter, this does drop down to 30kW or so, but that is still more or less sufficient for the lower winter population.

    The water supply for this system comes off a small creek flowing down the mountain, about 300' up there is a small diversion dam that the creek flows into. Water will either flow into the penstock, or continue down the creek depending on demand. As a side note, the water pressure is sufficient to push some of the water through the entire water treatment plant, and then into a storage tank, to supply the community's drinking water without the use of a single pump.

  • Here in western USA, we have a number of reservoirs that do not have hydroelectric on them. These will most likely be modifed in the future to have that. Some of these will generate 100's of MW or more. In addition, it is a certainty that Colorado WILL build one large reservoir in the west. The reason is that if we do not, we will see Californa, Nevada, and Az contine to steal our water. It is a case of use it or lose it. That large reservoir (most likely 2-forks) will produce something close to a gigawatt
  • The answer is yes, and the reason is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity [wikipedia.org] to compensate for variable power sources, such as wind and solar.

    Personally, I think the environmental problems of dams are overstated, and those of bio, solar, wind are understated.

    See http://conesteepark.com/history/a-lake-in-transition [conesteepark.com] for what has happened to a 120-year-old dam in my neighborhood

    “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oi

    • "Personally, I think the environmental problems of dams are overstated,"

      Obviously, you don't know much about fish biology. Dams have the capacity to take out entire species and have done so on multiple occasions. Some of the larger dams, such as the Three Rivers Georges dam in China and the anticipated completion of the damning of the Mekong River have already wiped out hundreds of species, and even cut productivity of many marine species by half or more. This happens because primary productivity and fis

      • by Tokolosh (1256448)

        The species loss you describe may be true, but you have not made a case that this is worse than the benefits from the dam.

        Also, if some fish species are lost does not mean that the total fish biomass decreases. On the contrary, the dam creates a larger habitat for the remaining fish, and thus more food. I have seen this myself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Kariba [wikipedia.org]

        50% of protein may come from fish, but how much of this is from the oceans, how much from rivers, how much from dams and lakes?

  • Studies have shown that dams on rivers and streams severely impacts reproduction in fishes, particularly since it alters stream volume and sediment load that directly impact on suitable nest and spawning sites as well as more indirectly on feeding sites, not to mention creates barriers that make it impossible for fishes to move to these sites from up or downstream. With this many projects under consideration you can pretty well kiss most of the North American fish fauna goodbye if these are approved. Of c

  • As long as you don't mind massive habitat destruction. All the environmentalists will be fine with that, right?

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