Hydropower uses flowing water to spin a turbine that is connected to a generator that produces electricity. Two types of hydropower are used in the U.S. – conventional hydropower and run-of-river hydropower. Conventional hydropower uses dams that are downstream from large reservoirs of water. Run-of-river (or “hydrokinetic”) systems divert water from rivers to spin small turbines.
Role of Alternative Energy Sources: Hydropower Technology Assessment
Hydropower is a proven technology that represents approximately 7 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but the resource base for large hydropower facilities has been fully developed and the growth potential for hydrokinetic hydropower is limited by the small capacities of hydrokinetic installations. The greenhouse gas emissions of hydropower are low, but there are ecological impacts of hydropower that are outside the boundaries of this analysis. Further, the benefits that dams provide with respect to flood control, irrigation, and navigability are difficult to compare on the same basis as hydroelectric power generation, complicating the calculation of the costs of hydropower.
Authors: Tim Skone, James Littlefield, Robert Eckard, Greg Cooney, Joe Marriott, PhD
Date: August, 2012
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