Hydropower - benefits, drawbacks & production in Finland

21.07.2021

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Water is essential for life and, for example, humans need it more than food. In addition, water has also been an important habitat for humans throughout history: the world's first cities were founded along rivers and even today all the world's major economic powerhouses are located by the sea. Water has many pleasures and benefits, and one of them is electricity generation, which we discuss in more detail in this article. When you are getting a new electricity contract, it often strikes you how common hydropower is in different electricity contracts.

Where does hydropower electricity come from?

Hydropower power is based on water circulation - stagnant water is not much of a source of electricity. You have to get the water moving, and that's why you have dams and hydroelectric power stations built to keep the water coming into the power station moving all the time. This movement has been harnessed since time immemorial with various turbines for grinding grain, for example.

The operating principle of modern hydropower is still the same, but the turbine no longer turns the millstones. Instead, they use electromagnetism, where a moving magnet generates an electric current. This electric current is the electricity that is then sent through transformers to homes along power lines. So electricity is generated in the same way as in a bicycle dynamo. In a hydroelectric power station, however, the movement of the water, the size of the turbine and the amount of electricity produced are much greater.

Traditionally, there have been two types of hydroelectric power plants: dams and river power plants. The latter is usually very small and the amount of electricity it generates is based purely on how much the river itself flows, as in a run-of-river power plant only part of the water is diverted along a separate route to the power plant.

Instead, the dam harnesses the full potential power of the river by channelling water through the dam to the turbines. There is usually much less water downstream of the dam as a result, but the amount of electricity generated is enough for up to millions of people, depending on the size of the dam.

Advantages and disadvantages of hydropower

Hydropower is a good form of electricity generation because once the power plant is built, nature and gravity usually do the rest. The amount of electricity produced by large power plants is also usually large enough to meet the basic needs of cities and sometimes whole countries, and other sources of energy simply supplement hydropower.

Hydropower is completely emission-free and renewable in the way it produces electricity. The magnets responsible for generating the electricity produce no carbon dioxide emissions, and the sun ultimately keeps the water flowing. Hydropower is therefore one of the cleanest forms of electricity generation. After certain initial investments, the environmental impact is relatively low and hydroelectric power plants in Finland have a relatively long life cycle.

There are, of course, some drawbacks. However, they are usually related to the infrastructure, often the dam, which requires a considerable amount of cement to build. This in turn causes carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition, the dam will substantially alter the surrounding environment and may even be destructive to wildlife. People in the vicinity are also usually forced to move out of the way of the dam. Fishermen are generally opposed to hydropower because the dam will stifle the free movement of fish. This can nowadays be prevented by building separate fish dams.

Hydropower in Finland and its future prospects

In Finland, hydropower is the cheapest way to produce electricity because there are many good places in the country of thousands of lakes where a hydropower plant can be built. Many Finnish electricity companies usually produce their electricity from mixed sources, based on hydropower, thanks to its low price and good availability.

The biggest challenge at the moment is that, while cheap and environmentally friendly electricity appeals to many, the hydropower plant itself is less so: a dull grey concrete structure in the middle of nature is not very aesthetically pleasing. In addition, the dam has a negative impact on the environment, as was pointed out earlier.

In the future, if the dams become more efficient and their impact on the landscape and nature is further reduced, it is by no means excluded that the majority of electricity consumed in Finland, also on the industrial side, will come from hydropower. And who knows, hydropower could also be an export product, as it already is in, say, tiny Bhutan, Asia.

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