Pamplin Media Group – Miller: Hydropower is a zero carbon energy source on our doorstep

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Kurt Miller is the executive director of the nonprofit Northwest RiverPartners, which advocates for hydropower 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 incredible resource also has the ability to store and release energy when needed to compensate for the intermittent nature of wind and solar power or other renewables that typically require battery backup.

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

You might also be wondering what carbon-free technology could challenge the highly regarded merits of wind and solar. We are talking about hydroelectricity; a source of electricity that has been in use in the United States and around the world since the late 19th century. Yet most people don’t understand its meaning or the important role it plays.

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

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

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

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

One of these innovations 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 the way 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 hydropower provides electricity, then its entire life cycle is green.

When green hydrogen is provided by hydropower or other zero-carbon resources, it could help bring the world to net zero emissions in the coming decades. As a result, we are seeing the growth of important test beds.

For example, the Douglas Public Utility District in Washington state launched a pilot project in 2020 to turn surplus hydropower into hydrogen and is building the first renewable hydrogen production facility in the Northwest. .

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

Thinking outside the box, we could also use part of the federal infrastructure package to add hydro generators to some of the 97% of US dams that do not generate electricity. Or replace existing hydroelectric turbines with advanced turbines that produce more zero-carbon electricity and safely remove over 99% of the juvenile salmon they encounter.

Along with wind and solar power, hydropower continues to be a crucial and proven player in the field of clean energy. But in order to most fairly achieve our 100% carbon-free goals here in the Northwest, we must fully appreciate the role hydropower plays and understand that this revolutionary resource is a major force leading the way.

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


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