Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How important is hydropower for United States?

Hydroelectric power plants provide around 7% of nation's electricity, making hydropower very important source of energy. Since harnessing hydropower has very long tradition in United States, it isn't really a surprise that hydroelectric plants today exist in 34 U.S. states. After all, the first U.S. hydroelectric power plant was opened 130 years ago, on the Fox River near Appleton, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1882.

The largest U.S. hydroelectric power plant is the 6,800-megawatt Grand Coulee power station on the Columbia River in Washington State. The State of Washington is also the nation's largest hydropower producer accounting for more than 30% of total nation's electricity generated from hydroelectric power plants.

The nation's largest - Grand Coulee hydroelectric power station.

In total, U.S. currently has more than 2000 hydroelectric power plants within its borders. These plants account for approximately 50% of nation's total renewable electricity generation. In three states- Washington, Idaho and Oregon, hydroelectric power plants are the most important source of electricity, even more important than coal and natural gas. It has been estimated that hydroelectric power plants today supply electricity needs for close to 29 million U.S. households.

Even despite the large number of hydroelectric power plants and the long history of harnessing hydro resources, U.S. doesn't make it into the top three world's largest produces of hydroelectricity, and trails China, Canada and Brazil.

It also has to be mentioned here that most dams in the United States were built mainly for flood control and irrigation, and in reality only a small percentage of all dams in the United States generates electricity, meaning that U.S. could relatively easy increase share of hydroelectricity in its energy consumption. The biggest hydroelectric dams in the United States are found in the Northwest, the Tennessee Valley, and on the Colorado River.

Lately there hasn't been many notable hydroelectric power projects in United States, even despite the fact that U.S. still has many hydro resources untapped. This isn't just because of high upfront costs connected with large hydropower projects but also because some other renewable energy sources, most notably solar and wind, are currently lot more popular to investors due to favorable incentives and other tax benefits.