Hydropower Provides Many Benefits in Changing Energy Environmet

When you flip a switch, the light comes on. By now, that instant access to electricity is something most of us take for granted. But do you know where that electricity comes from?

Here in Columbia County, about 85% of the electricity you use comes from clean, renewable hydropower. An additional 11% is nuclear power, meaning at least 96% of the power you use is carbon-free.

A lack of carbon emissions is one of the many benefits of hydropower. Another is hydropower’s incredible reliability.

Many other renewable resources aren’t often associated with reliability because their generation is reliant on Mother Nature. Hydropower, on the other hand, is dependable and predictable.

The water cycle constantly replenishes the fuel source. For us, that fuel source is the Columbia River Basin, which receives significant runoff from snowmelt in the mountains. This helps hydropower serve our power needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Hydropower is the only renewable resource that excels at producing such a high and continuous electrical output.

Hydropower also works well with other renewable resources. Operators can control how much hydropower is sent onto the grid by choosing how much water to allow through the water intakes in the dam. So when the grid has an abundance of wind and solar power on sunny, windy days, operators can reduce the amount of hydropower going onto the grid.

Conversely, when it’s dark and still outside, operators can increase the water running through dams to make up for a lack of other renewable resources.

Because hydropower plants are nimble enough to ramp their production up or down within minutes – or even seconds – these changes can be implemented quickly. That helps address one of the biggest challenges of electrical systems: Energy must be consumed as soon as it’s produced. It can’t be stored and saved for later.

Hydropower offers the next best thing. Storage reservoirs behind dams can store up to 30% of an average year’s runoff. These reservoirs are essentially giant batteries. They store energy – or in this case, water – when it’s not needed. When there’s more demand for power, more water is released from the reservoir to provide that needed energy.

Hydropower operators use these reservoirs to plan ahead for seasonal changes. Typically, operators in the Columbia Basin fill reservoirs during the wetter months to be prepared for drier conditions.

As more and more coal plants are retired and coal power is removed from the grid to meet clean energy standards, access to carbon-free hydropower is becoming even more important. Fortunately, we can continue to rely on hydropower to make sure the light keeps coming on when we flip that switch.