Hydroelectricity and New York State

Niagara Power Station

Hydroelectricity is the form of renewable energy where electricity is generated by hydropower aka through the use of force of falling or flowing water. It is the most widely used form of renewable energy, and comprises 16 % of global electricity generation. The largest hydroelectric plants in the world are the Three Gorges Dam in China, Itaipu Dam across the Brazil/Paraguay Border, and Guri Dam in Venezuela. They each have greater than 10 gigawatt capacities.

Hydroelectricity is relatively cheap, making it the most competitive source of renewable electricity. In the United States, the average cost of electricity from a hydroelectric plant larger than 10 megawatts is 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour. The cost of operating a plant is nearly immune to increases in the costs of fossil fuels as they require no imports. Hydropower is flexible because the plant output can be adjusted to adapt to fluctuating energy demands. Hydroelectric power plants produce around 66.8% of total renewable power in the US, which makes up 6.4% of the nation’s total electricity.

Despite its positive qualities, hydroelectricity causes poor environmental consequences since damming interrupts the flow of rivers and harms local ecosystems. The construction of large dams and resources often displaces people and wildlife. Compared to fossil fuel plants, hydropower plants have a lower level output of carbon dioxide but still generate some from decomposing plant material trapped by the dammed water. Read more about hydroelectricity here.

 

There are only four hydroelectric power plants in New York State. The closest to Rochester is the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station. Unsurprisingly the station diverts water from the Niagara River above Niagara Falls and returns the water below the falls, near Lake Ontario. It has 13 generators and a capacity of 2,525 megawatts. Two other power plants draw from Niagara Falls, both in Canada.

The City of Rochester draws electricity from multiple sources. Rochester Gas & Electric gets 400 MW of capacity from fossil fuel and hydroelectric power plants. The University of Rochester gets its power, water, and gas from Central Utilities, located on the River Campus. More power is not drawn from hydroelectric plants because the best hydroelectric locations have been used by this point. Dam expansion is largely finished in the United States.

The future of hydroelectric in developed countries lies in ‘micro hydro’ which can typically produce up to 100 kW using the natural flow of water. While not suited for large scale power production, micro hydro installations can provide power to homes or a small community, and can be connected to electric power networks. This man has already installed a micro hydro operation on his property to great effect. Rochester has significant water resources, and multiple micro hydro facilities could be a possible, if small scale, renewable power generation direction for the city.

 

By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013

2 Comments on “Hydroelectricity and New York State

  1. Now more and more people are using Solar Panels for electricity. It is a cost saving factor which everyone is using. You can find solar panels being installed on various places.

  2. Hydro-power is certainly carbon neutral. To harness to gravitational potential energy of a pool of water, one need only put a dynamo at the bottom of a waterfall, hook it to a generator and run electric lines from it.

    However: (1) the facility itself must be built, which often entails the massive emission of carbon (how much concrete is in a typical dam) and (2) the extraction of the potential energy may require the consumption of other environmental resources (as suggested in the post) – no less valuable perhaps than carbon free air. In the case of hydro, we need massive water reservoirs to tap. Since the energy density of falling water is about 0.005 watts per square meter, to produce a hydro facility of any reasonable power capacity would require a massive amount of land – inundating ecosystems and human systems alike. For example, to replace GINNA’s nuclear capabilities with hydro would require a reservoir about 1/3 the size of New York State – and that would only be enough to power the Rochester metropolitan area.

    One might suspect that the numbers are worse with micro-hydro, given the loss of scale economies in their production.

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