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What is Hydropower Development?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Hydropower development is a form of development which focuses on identifying sites which can be used for hydropower and exploiting their available energy. Nations all over the world rely on hydropower for some of their energy needs, and studies indicate that few, if any, nations are utilizing all of their hydropower resources. Like any form of development, hydropower development is not entirely unproblematic. There are a number of issues to consider when evaluating potential sites of hydropower facilities, ranging from energy needs to concerns about fish populations.

Humans have been harnessing the kinetic energy of water for thousands of years. Numerous human societies developed an assortment of creative ways to use water for energy. The waterwheel is a classic example, with wheels being used to power saws and milling facilities for grain long before the development of steam and electric power.

In the case of hydropower development, the goal is usually to generate electricity, classically by damming a waterway and using the water to turn turbines for the purpose of making electricity. However, hydropower development also includes facilities which use the ocean to generate wave power, damless hydro projects, and so forth. Some of the most notable hydropower development projects around the world include: Three Gorges Dam in China, Aswan Dam in Egypt, Chapeton Dam in Argentina, and Hoover Dam in the United States.

When embarking on hydropower development, one of the key issues to consider is whether or not a site can be used sustainably. A site with a sufficient supply of water is critical, as is a site which can be used without generating excessive negative environmental impacts. Damming waterways can have a tremendous impact on the environment. While controlling seasonal floods, dams also block the flow of nutrient-rich silt, make it difficult for fish populations to travel up river, and sometimes flood arable land, communities, or sites of historical importance. All of these issues must be weighed when evaluating a site to determine whether or not the benefits of the dam are worth the costs.

The environmental complexity of hydropower development is one reason why nations are not utilizing their full hydropower potential. Hydropower development is also very costly, which can be a limiting factor, and it can sometimes meet with considerable opposition from local communities. Although hydropower is a renewable resource which does not generate greenhouse gas emissions, making it an appealing source of energy for environmentally conscious nations, it is clearly only one among many renewable energy solutions.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jan 14, 2012

@bythewell - It's too late now. And there are plenty of positives to the dam. That flooding you mention made the Chinese government take steps to start reforesting the area.

And the amount of air pollution the dam saves is huge. Not only from generating clean hydro electricity, although that's a big part of it. It also allows them to ship a lot of goods by boat rather than by truck which also reduces pollution by a good amount.

There is very little technology in the world that's perfect. Hydropower is no better or worse than anything else, really.

By bythewell — On Jan 13, 2012

@umbra21 - I'm all for China using clean power, but stomping all over their people and landscape in order to do so isn't the best plan. They displaced 1.3 million people to build it. That's not just a few small villages.

It's also caused massive floods, because they tore down so many forests in order to build it.

And it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for the river dolphin, which was declared extinct a couple of years after the dam was built.

With all its great power and all the technology available to the world right now, you're telling me they couldn't do better than this?

I just hope people will start to do better now that they can really see the damage this kind of thing causes.

By umbra21 — On Jan 12, 2012

This is a really complex issue and I wish there was more debate about it.

I remember when the Three Gorges Dam in China was being built and it was quite the difficult process. There were news items every week about various villages being dismantled and their people shipped to apartments away from their ancestral lands in order to make way for the massive lake behind the dam.

There were also places of historical significance that are now buried under the water, as well as many animals and plants which lost their habitat.

On the other hand, China uses massive amounts of fossil fuels generating power every year. This particular hydropower plant helps them to generate clean energy for their massive population.

What's the right call here? I know I don't know.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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