Sunday, October 21, 2012

Peaking with Hydropower

Demands for power vary greatly during the day and night. These demands vary considerably from season to season, as well. For example, the highest peaks are usually found during summer daylight hours when air conditioners are running.

Nuclear and fossil fuel plants are not efficient for producing power for the short periods of increased demand during peak periods. Their operational requirements and their long startup times make them more efficient for meeting base load needs.

Since hydroelectric generators can be started or stopped almost instantly, hydropower is more responsive than most other energy sources for meeting peak demands. Water can be stored overnight in a reservoir until needed during the day, and then released through turbines to generate power to help supply the peak load demand. This mixing of power sources offers a utility company the flexibility to operate steam plants most efficiently as base plants while meeting peak needs with the help of hydropower. This technique can help ensure reliable supplies and may help eliminate brownouts and blackouts caused by partial or total power failures.

Today, many of Reclamation=s 58 power plants are used to meet peak electrical energy demands, rather than operating around the clock to meet the total daily demand. Increasing use of other energy-producing power plants in the future will not make hydroelectric power plants obsolete or unnecessary. On the contrary, hydropower can be even more important. While nuclear or fossil-fuel power plants can provide base loads, hydroelectric power plants can deal more economically with varying peak load demands. This is a job they are well suited for.

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