New York Is Leading The Hydropower Change
The largest producer of hydroelectric power east of the Rocky Mountains is New York. Unbeknownst to many, it is ranked fourth for the generation of electricity from hydropower. A staggering 300 hydroelectric generating stations connect to New York’s electric grid with hydro plants meeting 17 percent of New York’s total electricity demand.
The first generating plant that provided hydropower to New York city opened at Niagara Falls more than a century ago. Hydro generation is also great because it plays a significant role in stabilizing the electric grid and acts as a support for less-flexible sources of energy. It is also one of the most cost-effective solutions for electricity generation. This is because water is easily replenished when it snows and rains. Another benefit of hydroelectricity is that the price generally remains stable even if the markets for other fuels fluctuate.
There are a couple of different ways that hydroelectric power is able to meet the needs of people in urban areas as well as rural areas.
- Conventional hydroelectric technologies
A conventional hydroelectric plant has turbines that generate electricity by turning because the water falling on them which makes them spin. There are some plants which store water behind dams to be able to generate electricity reliably while other plants incorporate very little or no water storage. The New York Power Authority owns the Niagara River and the St. Lawrence Power Projects which are the biggest hydroelectric power plants in New York.
- Hydrokinetic systems
Hydrokinetic systems work by placing turbines below the surface of moving water to generate electricity. Hydrokinetic systems operate at peak efficiency in strong and fast currents. It is not running on a commercial scale yet. However, research and development are moving along well.
- Pumped storage systems
This is the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage presently available. There are pumped storage units which are found at Blenheim-Gilboa and Niagara Falls-Lewiston which use electricity generated during off-peak hours to pump water to a high elevation. During times of peak demand, the pumped water is let loose to generate power. While they do use more energy than they create, the electricity that is produced helps balance power grid loads and reduces the total cost of electric power.
What is the future of hydropower in New York?
Other forms of renewable energy have greater potential than hydropower. However, hydropower is expected to either hold its own or inch forward as a mainstay of New York's renewable power generation. Existing plants are also being upgraded which are increasing New York's hydroelectric generating capacity. If wave conversion proves to be economically and technically feasible, New York will experience a substantial increase in hydropower from coastline installations.
Repowering existing generation facilities, retrofitting non-power dams, and distributed hydroelectric generation are all steps that New York is considering to meet the growing energy demands from its population.
No one knows what the future holds but if anyone were to take a guess, ocean-based hydropower would be a safe bet because it holds great potential for the generation of electricity.