The Unpredictable Disadvantage of Sustainable Energy

I went to the sustainability poster session today, and talked to couple interesting presenters. What attracted me the most were the ones about river management. My father has been working for a engineering firm focus on dam designing and water managing for over fifteen years. Growing up in a province near the East China Sea, I have been visited many water constructions with him since age of ten. I was always impressed how the dam was built from scratch. Seeing the villages around river moved out, fields near the stream abandoned and mountains block the channel reconstructed, I was convinced by my father that water is a sustainable energy, and it is good overall to utilize this resource. However, recently, he asked me about water projects in States, and wondering what is worth learning. I started to look into different projects and recognized that the main concept of US hydropower projects is “keep it natural”. Engineers are unwilling to disturb the local community and try to do as less damage to environment as possible. After the poster session today, I found that even with the core concept of environmental friendly, the projects still caused lots of problems. The divert waterway, which collect water for electric production, usually will change local plant distribution. The building of dam will stop the fish to go along the river, sometimes whole species of fishes will be eliminated for this reason. However, before the projects were done, and even years after, those consequences can never be seen by us.


I just have a feeling that people will not recognize the consequence of some projects until many huge projects are done, such as hydropower station in this case. We were convinced by the benefits such technology will provide, but never see the potential damage it could cause. At the same time, we could hardly predict it until such technology is developed. So it is such a paradox that we can hardly figure out what to do. Similar technology including geothermal energy, solar power and wind.

This website gives relatively comprehensive and critical explanation about major sustainable energy. I think it worth reading.


6 thoughts on “The Unpredictable Disadvantage of Sustainable Energy

  1. I think it’s great that you chose to write about this. (The posters you looked at were the works of junior and senior civil engineers, aka all of my regular classmates.) While I did not take that specific class (River Mechanics), several of my engineering classes have addressed the issue of large hydropower. These projects are implemented to offset fossil fuel depletion in the hopes of creating clean energy. Unfortunately, these projects have detrimental impacts on neighboring communities and natural ecosystems. In civil engineering, one of the main priorities in projects is becoming “have as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible.” People are starting to realize the terrible impacts that our work has had on the natural world – it’s time we try to fix it.
    I also thought it was interesting that you chose to address an issue in the field that your father works. My dad is a millwright who works in power plants. (coal burning, nuclear, and more) It can be a challenge to recognize as an environmentalist that most of my education has been funded by his work in these power plants that I would like to eliminate someday.

    • It is good to know that you have similar family background with me. I think my father has recognized the problem, and gladly, with his position, he could perform some practice so that things could be changed later. The reason that he asked me to look up those cases is that he thinks US does have more advanced understanding of water management than China. And I am also glad that he is looking forward to change.

  2. I think there is also a trend to “de-dam” many rivers, to let them run wild.

    If China (or any country) can find ways to not follow in the mistakes of other developed countries, that would be great.

    • Believing in hydropower for so many years, China, especially provinces with plentiful water resources, is struggling deeply in the “dam dilemma”. We can see the “free” power generated by the stations, but the damage to the surrounding is not ignorable. But I think China will be easier to transform than the States due to the centralized political structure.

  3. When I was in China I had the opportunity of taking a three day cruise on the Yellow River. Towards the end of our trip, we went through the various chambers of the Three Gorges Damn. It was a magnificently large structure and had an astonishing amount of engineering go into it. As Jordi said above, China is the world leader in hydroelectric power. Because of this, it surprised me that your father is interested in learning more about hydroelectricity in the U.S. I would have thought he would look into Canada’s methods of obtaining power from water.

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