Monday, October 09, 2006

Falling Water Rising Heat

Humans have always liked a helping hand to do chores or to perform work. One such hand is the water wheel. This technology was developed a long time ago to aid in the tough job of grinding grains. Of course, geography played a significant role, where areas of hills and rivers could use the water wheel. It was later in our history, when we started damming rivers for irrigation purposes did the water wheel become easier to control and to optimise.

Europe was the first to capture falling water and make electricity. This is was a significant feat since it provided low cost electricity to the general public. This was the first mass production of commercial electricity, where electricity broke through all class castes. The demand for more production was large. Governments and universities even held competitions for water turbine designs, creating the most significant achievements in hydropower technology still in use today.

In the 1920s, Canada mined the white gold from the beautiful Niagara Falls to launch a huge undertaking in electrifying the entire province of Ontario, urban and rural. To note, this was only successful because Ontario developed a public electricity system, since private systems did not see the profit in providing electricity to farms.

So today, hydro power contributes 18% of the world’s electricity production, with China, Canada, Brazil, and USA holding on to the most resources. The largest hydro plants in the world are Three Gorges, China (18 000 MWe), Itaipu, Brazil (12 600 MWe), Guri, Venezuela (10 000 MWe). These are monstrosities and there is no fossil fuel plant that is as big as these beasts.

There is still potential to expand and exploit hydro power in many areas. The potential is there, but the will to go build is getting weak. There is a lot of planning and developing before construction even begins to make sure the environmental, social, and economic issues are handled correctly. Some governments realising the low greenhouse gas emitting potential of this electricity production have given leeway to facilitate construction. Other governments spur smaller scale plants and refuse to help the large scale plants.

The small scale plant has a bright future, it is easy to manage, to fund, and the Grid likes hydro power. These plants are reliable and have a very low impact on the environment. The one potential issue that will plaque this technology is water levels. All over the world, river water levels are shrinking. Some say it is part of global warming, others blame human consumption. As reservoirs shrink, the price of electricity will skyrocket affecting hydro power dominated Grids. This is not something everyone wants, except those developing new technology to produce electricity!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW!! Canada is sooo... behind from theses final frontiers of knowledge. It is shameful what the Conservatives are doing with their " Clean air act" We all supposed to be dead by 2050.
You should be the Ministry of Environment, WE really need bright minds to uplift the Canadian voice on a higher levels of leadership. It is very shameful the place that Canada has today in the international scene with the conservatives in minority... by Random thoughts...

5:32 PM  

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