Hydro Power: America’s Largest Renewable Energy Source


With the boom of renewable energy over the last 10-15 years or so, solar and wind have been getting more attention than others. Solar energy, and more recently wind energy, are available for middle class Americans if their homes qualify and as a result, are more relateable to the majority of the population.


Believe it or not, hydro power is the largest renewable energy source for electricity throughout the United States, making up about 10% of all capacity. Over 70% of Washington state’s electricity comes from hydro power, with 11 other states getting at least 10% of their power source from this renewable source, including leading states Oregon and Idaho.


How does it work?


The most common type of hydroelectric power plant releases water through a reservoir and flows through a turbine, which spins it and creates electricity. While often the method, it doesn’t require a large dam – small canals can help channel river water through turbines as well.  The amount of precipitation draining into rivers and streams determines the amount of water that can be used to produce hydropower – which makes droughts difficult as it relies on the water cycle.


Another common hydroelectric power plant is called a “pumped storage plant” – it sends the power from a power grid into generators that spin the turbines backwards. This causes the turbines to pump water from a river or low reservoir to an upper reservoir where it can be stored. When they spin forward, the generators activate and produce usable electricity.


What are the environmental benefits?


Hydro power generates electricity without producing air pollution. Aside from producing cleaner air and water, hydro power can reduce approximately 200 million tons of carbon pollution every year – equivalent to reducing the emissions of over 38 million cars. Just a small hydroelectric power system can generate enough electricity to power an entire home, farm, or ranch.