Evaporating Hydro

Deck: 

Produced a third of our electricity, but soon it’ll be blown away by wind

Today in Fortnightly

Coal has always produced the most electricity for the grid, compared to other sources, until a few recent months when coal was temporarily surpassed by natural gas. That's what the panelist said, in a seminar last week about electric utilities.

It's true that coal has led. But hydro ran neck and neck with coal well into the 1930's. And up until 1947, hydro produced over a third of the grid's electricity.

Recharge the Economy with Renewable Energy Tax Credits

The first year hydro's share fell below twenty percent was 1959, which was also when gas beat hydro for the first time. Bobby Darin recorded Splish Splash that year, but hydro was taking the bath.

The first year nuclear's share beat hydro's share was 1977. The first year hydro's share fell below ten percent was 1987. 

In 2014, hydro produced 6.2 percent of our electricity, while wind produced 4.4 percent. Through October of last year, 2015, hydro's share fell to 6.0 percent while wind held steady at 4.4 percent. 

Since hydro's generating capacity is not increasing and wind's capacity is growing rapidly, wind will likely pass hydro by the end of this decade. That would leave hydro in fifth place, behind coal, gas, nuclear and wind.  

Hydro, our 19th century renewable technology, is in danger of becoming a nearly insignificant source of zero-emissions generation. Through October of last year, hydro was down to 18.7 percent of zero-emissions generation. Nuclear, in contrast, was 59.7 percent. Most of the remainder was wind.

Can anything be done to bring back hydro as a economical zero-emissions source? The National Hydropower Association says the focus is on:

"... projects that maximize the benefits of our existing infrastructure, such as adding new, more efficient generating equipment to existing facilities and adding electricity generating capacity to dams that have none today."  

Recharge the Economy with Renewable Energy Tax Credits

"Other areas of growth include closed-loop pumped storage systems, which allow for additional renewable generation to be added to the grid, and new technologies like hydrokinetic, tidal and wave power that have the potential to open up vast amounts of renewable generation ..." 

However, development of hydro capacity is generally opposed by the environmental community.


The February issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly will expand the number of pages in the magazine, upgrade the quality of the discourse in its pages, and enhance the magazine's look.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly
E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com