Hydropower development is a form of development which focuses on identifying sites which can be used for hydropower and exploiting their available energy. Nations all over the world rely on hydropower for some of their energy needs, and studies indicate that few, if any, nations are utilizing all of their hydropower resources. Like any form of development, hydropower development is not entirely unproblematic. There are a number of issues to consider when evaluating potential sites of hydropower facilities, ranging from energy needs to concerns about fish populations.
Humans have been harnessing the kinetic energy of water for thousands of years. Numerous human societies developed an assortment of creative ways to use water for energy. The waterwheel is a classic example, with wheels being used to power saws and milling facilities for grain long before the development of steam and electric power.
In the case of hydropower development, the goal is usually to generate electricity, classically by damming a waterway and using the water to turn turbines for the purpose of making electricity. However, hydropower development also includes facilities which use the ocean to generate wave power, damless hydro projects, and so forth. Some of the most notable hydropower development projects around the world include: Three Gorges Dam in China, Aswan Dam in Egypt, Chapeton Dam in Argentina, and Hoover Dam in the United States.
When embarking on hydropower development, one of the key issues to consider is whether or not a site can be used sustainably. A site with a sufficient supply of water is critical, as is a site which can be used without generating excessive negative environmental impacts. Damming waterways can have a tremendous impact on the environment. While controlling seasonal floods, dams also block the flow of nutrient-rich silt, make it difficult for fish populations to travel up river, and sometimes flood arable land, communities, or sites of historical importance. All of these issues must be weighed when evaluating a site to determine whether or not the benefits of the dam are worth the costs.
The environmental complexity of hydropower development is one reason why nations are not utilizing their full hydropower potential. Hydropower development is also very costly, which can be a limiting factor, and it can sometimes meet with considerable opposition from local communities. Although hydropower is a renewable resource which does not generate greenhouse gas emissions, making it an appealing source of energy for environmentally conscious nations, it is clearly only one among many renewable energy solutions.