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Hydropower as an Alternative to Nonrenewable Resource Methods

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    The environment is increasingly becoming more and more polluted due to various means of obtaining energy like burning fossil fuels. This, as a result, worsens the effects of climate change which can ultimately destroy crop yields, cause sea levels to rise, induce heat related diseases, and destroy habitats. With this in mind, renewable energy sources that reduce emissions are becoming more appealing to many countries, and one method which has been increasing in demand is hydropower. Hydropower plants are most commonly dams that harness the power of rivers. Proponents of hydropower claim that hydropower is renewable, cleaner for the environment, in some cases, provides more power, and it is cheaper in the long term.

    Those who oppose hydropower state that it has very high upfront costs, it creates a risk of mass flooding and landslides, and that there is an issue with blocking upstream water from moving downstream. Blocking this water from moving downstream prevents organisms that relied on that water in the ecosystem from obtaining it, therefore negatively altering the food web. One must also consider the political conflict that may arise from one country ending up preventing another country from obtaining water if that country was downstream due to a dam built.

    One of the main benefits of hydropower is the sheer amount of power that it can be produced compared to other methods of obtaining energy. The three most efficient power plants in the world, the Itaipu in Brazil, the Three Gorges in China, and the Xiluodo are in China are all hydroelectric with them producing 103,000,000,000 kWhs, 93,5000,000,000 kWhs, and 52,200,000,000 kWh respectively. Only after those three power plants is there a nuclear power plant called Hanul located in South Korea which generates 48,160,000,000 kWhs (Conca, 2017).

    In a future where humans may find themselves running out of nonrenewable resources, hydropower can be a dependable solution since it can provide a constant source of energy while also not faltering in terms of efficiency.

    James Conica has been a scientist for 33 years, studying environmental science in particular. He primarily focuses his research towards geological disposal of nuclear waste and energy production.

    Another benefit is that using hydropower is more expensive upfront, it is cheaper in the long run since it takes less money to keep in operation. On the extreme higher end, in reference to the Three Gorges Dam, it costs $22.5 billion to build the dam upfront, however, it then costs around $0.85 per kWh which offsets the initial cost of building the dam (Wisconsin Valley, n.d.). With this in mind, many developing countries may find constructing hydro plants a beneficial investment since they can recuperate their losses overtime while also providing a consistent and reliable source of energy. This is comparable to the normal cost to what it would take to run something like a nuclear power plant, or a coal based power plant all having a capital cost ranging in between $1,200 and $5,000, however the power sources differ when it comes to the cost of the materials used and the cost of the operations to obtain the materials (Penn State, n.d.). As a result, countries which implement hydropower will most likely recuperate the upfront cost within the years to come.

    Among the major problems of implementing hydropower is the international conflicts that can resonate between countries. This is due in part to the effects that building a dam can create on a river downstream, impacting countries that may use that same water from the same river economically and culturally. Not only can daming the water of a commonly used river negatively affect the ecosystem downstream, but it can also prevent a country who depended on that water from using it as a reliable water source for things like irrigation, sewage systems, and drinking. This is the situation that plagued Ethiopia and Egypt recently when Ethiopia was considering damming the Nile river which connects to Egypt downstream.

    The Nile river has been cemented into Egyptian culture and Egypt’s economy and the plans of damming the river upstream in Ethiopia will significantly lower the amount of water that Egypt is able to obtain. This can give way to international disputes and in extreme cases war which is unfavorable for both countries (Olmstead, 2016). This is one of the major issues of damming as it may affect various different countries who are considering using hydropower. A report from Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists states that after “[analyzing] 382 global river basins and 4,696 dams and concluded that dams are 27 percent more likely to be placed in areas upstream of international borders” (Olmstead, 2016). With this taken into consideration, with the increase of dams being built in the future to presumably replace non-renewable energy sources, there might be rising tension between countries which have rivers that flow in between their boundaries.

    Olmstead is a professor majoring as an environmental and resource economist. She received her PhD at Harvard University in 2002 and her MA at the University of Texas in 1996. She is currently an Editor of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, and in the past has served as Associate Editor of Water Resources Research, Co-editor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Book Review Editor of Water Economics and Policy, and Editorial Council member for the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. Among her current research projects, she is looking into the integration of hydropower, and how it may affect climate change. Although she may be a secondary source on the conflict occurring between Ethiopia and Egypt, she is a primary source when discussing the statistics of hydropower placement as she aided in the creation of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.

    Along with boundary issues, one of the main issues with switching to hydropower is the likelihood and landslides due in part to the increased pressure of the land holding the water and the decreased pressure of the land surrounding the water (Kuo, 2015). With these landslides present, it can cause massive damage to the local ecosystem, and in most cases, cause people to move. Such is the case with the new Three Gorges Dam which caused hundreds of thousands of people to move. Their reason for moving is the rampant landslides, as a matter of fact, significantly more landslides than expected. “China’s ministry states that there have been 70% more landslides and bank collapses than expected” (Kuo, 2015). Although this news site is not the most reputable since it is based in New York and it was founded recently in 2012, many other local news sites state the same thing. Including a chinese non-profit organization called China Dialogue with branches based in Beijing. This is another issue among a few others that are associated with the use of hydropower, it causes the foundation on which power plants are established to become highly unstable due to the variation in pressure exerted on the ground.

    In perspective two, one of the main claims being made, especially by the article Dam Construction on International Rivers, is that international tensions will arise once rivers start becoming damned due to the fact that it will cause countries that are downstream of that same river to not have as much water. The primary example provided is with the events that are occuring in Egypt and Ethiopia. Although the author states that conflict was avoided by the two countries creating an agreement in 2015, at the same time, the author still uses this as an example as for what may happen to varying countries in the future that intend to construct hydro powered dams, and provides possibilities in which the issue is not resolved that calmly.

    The author then provides statistics that depicts the amount of countries that may end up having to have conflict over disputes such as the one seen in Egypt and Ethiopia. This argument is moderately to slightly more than moderately strong. While it provides a plethora of statistics stating what may be to come and a real world example, it lacks one underlying feature. It isn’t very specific and has plot holes. Although the example of Egypt and Ethiopia was provided, it didn’t suit her argument since the situation was calmly resolved with conflict in contrast to the author’s speculation. Also, the statistic used was very general as it only stated that they “analyzed [that] 382 global river basins and 4,696 dams and concluded that dams are 27 percent more likely to be placed in areas upstream of international borders” and provides that for a reason that conflict may arise. This, however, excludes ideas like whether the countries between the borders have a poor relationship or not. The author also fails to include what the original likelihood of a dam being placed upstream of an international border or the methods behind their test that enables the to stating that there is a 27% increase.

    In perspective one, two of the main arguments trying to be made are the fact that hydropower both provides a lot of energy and it is cost efficient in the long run. The former is backed up with clear statistics that are relevant to the argument the author is trying to make which is a positive, however, a source is not provided is a negative. The latter is also backed up by detailed statistics that again, were relevant to the argument trying to be made, and they themselves were the creators of the data making them a primary source which is another positive.

    In my opinion, I see hydropower as a very promising alternative to nonrenewable resource methods. It can provide a mass abundance of energy that rivals that of most nonrenewable methods, and in many cases, even surpassing the energy output of typically used methods. Such is shown my the data collected by Conca; he stated that some of the most productive dams in the world were the Itaipu in Brazil/Paraguay, the Three Gorges in China, and the Xiluodo also in China are all hydroelectric with them producing 103,000,000,000 kWhs, 93,5000,000,000 kWhs, and 52,200,000,000 kWh respectively (Conca, 2017). Not only do hydropower plants produce a lot of energy, but they also produce that energy consistently and flexibly, meaning it is able to produce energy year around and operators of the power plants are able to turn the plant on and off quickly when necessary. Least but not least, although the initial price to construct the dam may be expensive, over time, it will end up paying for itself since hydropower is relatively cheap to sustain, generally costing $0.85/kWh (Wisconsin Valley, n.d.). That isn’t to demean hydropowers faults, the initial cost itself will deter many countries with poor economies from considering building hydropower plants.

    There is also the matter of geography, and the effects that hydropower plants can have on geography along with the people who live near the water being dammed. First and foremost, if you live in an area with no natural bodies of water, there is now way of making an efficient dam, ultimately ruling out all countries with little access to rivers, lakes, or oceans. Also, when building dams, its effect on the local ecosystem and geography has to be considered. A large mass of water building up on a land mass creates a lot of pressure, and can cause the area surrounding the dam to exert pressure in the form of landslides (Kuo, 2015). Damming rivers minimizes the amount of water that organisms and people will receive there for altering the ecosystem of the location, and preventing countries that depend on the water from obtaining it. This means that all countries with the rivers that cross borders, if they were to implement hydropower, it might lead to conflict.

    Even though these are critical issues, other than one’s proximity to a water source, many of the problems can be resolved. Landslides can be avoided by not allowing too much pressure to build up from the weight of the water, border conflicts between countries can be resolved like in the incident between Ethiopia and Egypt, and the local ecosystem can maintain somewhat of a similar balance if water release through the dam is properly managed.

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