Hydropower has been a slumbering giant in the energy game. Since the 1960s, its use has actually gone down compared to other energy sources. This is beginning to change.
If you buy a 120 watt solar panel from the Internet you will pay something like $1,100 for a ready to install unit. That’s $9.30 per watt when you reduce the efficiency by 15%.
They decided it was too expensive and a nightmare to keep track of all the units. What’s new in the North East is the construction of hydropower Plants in Quebec in the narrow river valleys that drain into the St. Lawrence River. They sell power as far south as Long Island. This came at a time when LILCO was struggling with the Shoreham Nuclear Power fiasco. Hydro Power is not quite perfectly reliable though. A recent example in the Northwest a few years ago when light snowfall and light run off required rationing where the utility paid the aluminum plant to shut down to conserve water. Quebec also had a problem where extreme cold weather cut power production enough that some steam plants had to delay their planned maintenance outages.
The next frontier is Water Turbines.These are similar to wind turbines and are placed in the water currents. The current spins the turbine to produce electricity. This technology dates back to the Romans. Nova Scotia has a turbine producing 20 MW since 1984. La Rance barrage in Normandy puts out 240 MW and was installed in 1966. In 2007 New York City tried installing turbines in the Hudson river. The current was so strong it was snapping the 20 foot blades. In 2010 using what they have learned a new project is under way to install 30 underwater turbines in the East river between Queens and Roosevelt Island. The completion will be sometime in 2011 if all goes according to schedule.
In many countries tax breaks or credits are available for those who install energy company electricity generation equipment. In the USA, the government and IRS have issued tax breaks or credits for DIY home solar panels for years as an incentive to reduce bulk energy consumption and focus people on sustainable energy sources. No doubt these incentives will increase as the need to move away from carbon intensive forms of electricity generation increase.
Harvesting this solar power efficiently to use is mankind’s current challenge. One collection process which has been developed is called the solar cell. In this device, silicon has been manufactured in such a way to convert the sun’s rays directly into electricity.
It can take years to build the dams for a hydroelectric plant to start operating though. Many people who live in the vicinity of a proposed hydroelectric plant are not happy about it either. They worry about flooding and they often find their homeowner’s insurance goes up due to that possibility.