We explain what hydraulic energy is and how a hydroelectric power station works. The advantages and disadvantages of this energy and examples.
What is hydraulic energy?
It is known as hydraulic energy, water energy or hydro-energy obtained from the use of kinetic and / or potential energy from currents, falls or waterfalls . It is a form of energy long used in the history of mankind and at different scales, since it can be transformed into numerous other forms of useful energy.
In general, hydraulic energy is considered safe, renewable and clean , since it does not exhaust the water it uses, nor does it produce toxic substances or pollutants .
However, it usually has a considerable environmental impact given the impact that facilities can have, especially on a large scale, such as hydroelectric dams, which modify the flow of rivers, flood dry lands and can even change the quality of the water.
For centuries the riverbed was used with mills and rotors to harness its strength and convert it into mechanical energy , either to grind grains or wheat, or to generate electricity . The strength of the water, its fluidity and its abundance make these mechanisms an ideal resource for humanity.
How do hydroelectric plants work?
Hydroelectric power plants are the best known case of use of hydraulic energy, in this case to generate electricity . This is carried out by placing the plant in some natural water fall , river channel or, in case of not having the necessary height, by building a hydroelectric dam.
The logic of these sites is to take advantage of the gravitational potential energy of the water or the intensity of its current, to make the liquid move a hydraulic turbine constantly , thus generating new energy that is then transmitted to an alternator, to obtain electricity.
This electrical energy can then be transmitted through the network to homes and businesses that require it.
Advantages of hydraulic energy
Hydraulic energy has the following virtues:
- It is renewable, because they do not waste water from the rivers, nor do they affect their drying.
- Given the abundance of water on the planet, this energy is cheap and easily obtainable. Of course, the installation costs of hydroelectric plants are, but that counts only as an initial investment.
- It is a form of clean energy, as it does not byproduct polluting substances, since there are no combustion processes or raw materials.
- It is in the long run economic, since it does not depend on the income of raw material or the fluctuations of its market.
Disadvantages of hydraulic power
At the same time, this form of energy has the following defects:
- The environmental impact of large facilities in rivers and lakes.
- The high cost of the construction of the plants, as well as the secondary costs of the flooding of fertile land to build a dam.
- It alters the river ecosystems downstream, since the water that leaves the plant lacks sediments.
- Extreme drought seasons and phenomena such as El Niño can drastically reduce electricity production.
Importance of hydraulic energy
This form of energy is key in the development of sustainable and ecological ways to meet the growing demand for energy in the post-industrial world .
The burning of fossil fuels is too polluting, nuclear energy involves too many dangers and the other forms are not efficient enough. Hydropower and other forms of renewable electricity are increasingly seen as a necessary option in the future world .
Examples of hydraulic power
Examples of the use of hydraulic energy are:
- The hydraulic mills , which pushed by the riverbed serve to spin a piston and in it a millstone, with which grains, seeds, wheat, etc. are ground or crushed. This same principle has been used with the force of the wind.
- Hydroelectric plants , such as the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Power Plant, in Venezuela, also called the Guri Dam, which takes advantage of the flow of the Caroni River, a tributary of the Orinoco, to generate some 10,235 MW of electricity that supplies the entire country.