Pamplin Media Group – Miller: Hydroelectricity is a carbon-free energy source on our doorstep


Kurt Miller is executive director of the nonprofit organization Northwest RiverPartners, which advocates for hydroelectricity in the Pacific Northwest.

A pioneering resource is now available that can provide clean, renewable energy at a fraction of the cost of existing carbon-free methods. It uses existing natural resources to generate energy, but unlike wind and solar, its infrastructure is already in place, making our electricity bills more affordable.

This amazing resource also has the ability to store and release energy when needed to offset the intermittent nature of wind and solar power or other renewable energy that typically requires battery backup.

Imagine the reaction to a new energy concept like this in 2021, as we race against time to eliminate our carbon footprint and reverse the disastrous effects of global warming.

You might also wonder what carbon-free technology could possibly challenge the much-vaunted merits of wind and solar. We talk about hydroelectricity; a source of electricity already used in the United States and around the world since the end of the 19th century. Yet most people do not understand its meaning or the important role it plays.

If you grew up in the Pacific Northwest, you probably already know that hydroelectricity is a staple in the field of renewable energy, bringing an abundance of affordable energy benefits that help us meet our energy goals. clean in the most cost-effective and equitable manner. In this region, energy generated by hydroelectricity provides nearly 90% of our renewable energy, enough to meet Seattle’s annual electricity needs more than 16 times.

One of the biggest differentiators and benefits of hydroelectricity is that it generates electricity when it is needed due to its ability to store excess energy by holding water behind a dam for later use. Essentially, unlike its carbon-free partners – wind and solar – hydropower comes with its own backup power.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in battery development to safely and cleanly integrate intermittent renewables like wind and solar into the grid. However, the most advanced utility batteries still try to break the six-hour barrier. Meanwhile, hydroelectric facilities with a moderate reservoir size can supply electricity for days at a time.

The role of hydroelectricity in a carbon-free world cannot be overstated. It is our biggest source of renewable energy. Seventy-five percent of the world’s renewable electricity generation comes from hydropower, and it’s set to become even more influential in the years to come, thanks in part to new innovations.

One such innovation is green hydrogen, an alternative fuel whose only by-product is water. This makes it a great choice for industries like commercial transportation, manufacturing, and even homes. But what makes green hydrogen really clean is how it’s developed. Hydrogen can be isolated by a process known as electrolysis, which uses electricity to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water. When a renewable energy resource, such as hydroelectricity, provides electricity, its entire life cycle is green.

When green hydrogen is supplied by hydropower or other carbon-free resources, it could help bring the world to net zero emissions in decades to come. As a result, we are seeing the growth of significant testbeds.

For example, the Douglas Public Utility District in Washington State launched a pilot project in 2020 to turn excess hydroelectricity into hydrogen and is building the first renewable hydrogen generation facility in the Northeast. Where is.

There are still many other ways to create greater efficiency by leveraging this pillar of the clean energy sector. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is exploring ways to couple hydroelectricity and batteries to create super energy storage facilities that can take advantage of existing hydropower capabilities.

Thinking outside the box, we could also use some of the entire federal infrastructure to add hydroelectric generators to some of the 97% of US dams that don’t produce electricity. Or replace existing hydroelectric turbines with advanced turbines that produce more carbon-free electricity and safely pass over 99% of the juvenile salmon they encounter.

Alongside wind and solar power, hydroelectricity continues to be a crucial and proven player in the field of clean energy. But in order to most equitably achieve our 100% carbon-free goals here in the North West, we need to fully appreciate the role hydropower plays and understand that this game-changing resource is a major force leading the way.

Kurt Miller is executive director of the nonprofit organization Northwest RiverPartners, which advocates for hydroelectricity in the Pacific Northwest.

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