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.