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Natural Resources - Water for All - Dams

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  • Big dams: advantages and limitations,
  • Big dams: alternatives, if any

notes

ADVANTAGES:
1. Once a dam is constructed, electricity can be produced at a constant rate.

2. If electricity is not needed, the sluice gates can be shut, stopping electricity generation. The water can be saved for use another time when electricity demand is high.

3. Dams are designed to last many decades and so can contribute to the generation of electricity for many years / decades.

4. The lake that forms behind the dam can be used for water sports and leisure / pleasure activities. Often large dams become tourist attractions in their own right.

5. The lake's water can be used for irrigation purposes.

6. The build up of water in the lake means that energy can be stored until needed, when the water is released to produce electricity.

7. When in use, electricity produced by dam systems do not produce green house gases. They do not pollute the atmosphere.

DISADVANATGES:
1. Dams are extremely expensive to build and must be built to a very high standard.

2. The high cost of dam construction means that they must operate for many decades to become profitable.

3. The flooding of large areas of land means that the natural environment is destroyed.

4. People living in villages and towns that are in the valley to be flooded, must move out. This means that they lose their farms and businesses. In some countries, people are forcibly removed so that hydro-power schemes can go ahead.

5. The building of large dams can cause serious geological damage. For example, the building of the Hoover Dam in the USA triggered a number of earth quakes and has depressed the earths surface at its location.

6. Although modern planning and design of dams is good, in the past old dams have been known to be breached (the dam gives under the weight of water in the lake). This has led to deaths and flooding.

7. Dams built blocking the progress of a river in one country usually means that the water supply from the same river in the following country is out of their control. This can lead to serious problems between neighbouring countries.

8. Building a large dam alters the natural water table level. For example, the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt has altered the level of the water table. This is slowly leading to damage of many of its ancient monuments as salts and destructive minerals are deposited in the stone work from rising damp caused by the changing water table level.

Alternatives:

  • biomass gasifiers, which burn waste products from agricultural production (such as rice or corn husks) to produce electricity
  • small-scale micro- (<100kw) and pico-hydro (<5 kw), which require no dam and run on the river’s natural flow
  • solar and wind generation
  • co-generation, a combination of electricity, heating and cooling from waste heat, usually sited to consumer needs. Surplus can be shared/sold to nearby customers using low voltage systems

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