The disadvanteges of hydroelectric power plant (hydroelectricity):
Failure Hazard Dam failures have been some of the largest man-made disasters in history. Also, good design and construction are not an adequate guarantee of safety. Dams are tempting industrial targets for wartime attack, sabotage and terrorism.
For example, the Banqiao Dam hydroelectric power plant failure in Southern China directly resulted in the deaths of 26,000 people, and another 145,000 from epidemics. Millions were left homeless. Also, the creation of a dam in a geologically inappropriate location may cause disasters like the one of the Vajont Dam in Italy, where almost 2000 people died, in 1963.
Smaller dams and micro hydroelectric power plant facilities create less risk, but can form continuing hazards even after they have been decommissioned. For example, the small Kelly Barnes Dam failed in 1967, causing 39 deaths with the Toccoa Flood, ten years after its power plant was decommissioned in 1957.
Large Power Outages caused by dam failures Large dams, whilst generally reliable can suffer catastrophic failure to the dam itself, or the connections and substations, leading to extremely large and sudden loss of output, which can plunge an entire network off line, for hours or even months depending on the damage. Hence whilst these are regarded as "firm" or "despatchable" sources, in reality duplication or back up has to be provided. Examples are:
the November 2009 Brazil and Paraguay blackout dam failure: 14 GW
the 2009 Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro accident: 6.4 GW
the Banqiao Dam failure: 18 GW
These are very large losses of power; for comparison, the average UK power demand is around 37 GW.
Limited Service Life Almost all rivers convey silt. Dams on those rivers will retain silt in their catchments, because by slowing the water, and reducing turbulence, the silt will fall to the bottom. Siltation reduces a dam's water storage so that water from a wet season cannot be stored for use in a dry season. Often at or slightly after that point, the dam becomes uneconomic. Near the end of the siltation, the basins of dams fill to the top of the lowest spillway, and may cause the dam to fail during any season. Some especially poor dams can fail from siltation in as little as 20 years. Larger dams are not immune. For example, the Three Gorges Dam in China has an estimated life that may be as short as 70 years.
Dams' useful lives can be extended with sediment bypassing, special weirs, and forestation projects to reduce a watershed's silt production, but at some point most dams become uneconomic to operate.
Environmental damage Large reservoirs required for the operation of hydroelectric power plants result in submersion of extensive areas upstream of the dams, destroying biologically rich and productive lowland and riverine valley forests, marshland and grasslands. The loss of land is often exacerbated by the fact that reservoirs cause habitat fragmentation of surrounding areas.
Hydroelectric power plant projects can be disruptive to surrounding aquatic ecosystems both upstream and downstream of the plant site. For instance, studies have shown that dams along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America have reduced salmon populations by preventing access to spawning grounds upstream, even though most dams in salmon habitat have fish ladders installed. Salmon spawn are also harmed on their migration to sea when they must pass through turbines. This has led to some areas transporting smolt downstream by barge during parts of the year. In some cases dams have been demolished (for example the Marmot Dam demolished in 2007) because of impact on fish. Turbine and hydroelectric power-plant designs that are easier on aquatic life are an active area of research. Mitigation measures such as fish ladders may be required at new projects or as a condition of re-licensing of existing projects.
Generation of hydroelectric power plant changes the downstream river environment. Water exiting a turbine usually contains very little suspended sediment, which can lead to scouring of river beds and loss of riverbanks. Since turbine gates are often opened intermittently, rapid or even daily fluctuations in river flow are observed. For example, in the Grand Canyon, the daily cyclic flow variation caused by Glen Canyon Dam was found to be contributing to erosion of sand bars. Dissolved oxygen content of the water may change from pre-construction conditions. Depending on the location, water exiting from turbines is typically much warmer than the pre-dam water, which can change aquatic faunal populations, including endangered species, and prevent natural freezing processes from occurring. Some hydroelectric projects also use canals to divert a river at a shallower gradient to increase the head of the scheme. In some cases, the entire river may be diverted leaving a dry riverbed. Examples include the Tekapo and Pukaki Rivers in New Zealand.
Greenhouse gas emissions Lower positive impacts are found in the tropical regions, as it has been noted that the reservoirs of power plants in tropical regions may produce substantial amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. This is due to plant material in flooded areas decaying in an anaerobic environment, and forming methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. According to the World Commission on Dams report, where the reservoir is large compared to the generating capacity (less than 100 watts per square metre of surface area) and no clearing of the forests in the area was undertaken prior to impoundment of the reservoir, greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoir may be higher than those of a conventional oil-fired thermal generation plant. Although these emissions represent carbon already in the biosphere, not fossil deposits that had been sequestered from the carbon cycle, there is a greater amount of methane due to anaerobic decay, causing greater damage than would otherwise have occurred had the forest decayed naturally.
In boreal reservoirs of Canada and Northern Europe, however, greenhouse gas emissions are typically only 2% to 8% of any kind of conventional fossil-fuel thermal generation. A new class of underwater logging operation that targets drowned forests can mitigate the effect of forest decay.
In 2007, International Rivers accused hydropower firms for cheating with fake carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), for hydropower projects already finished or under construction at the moment they applied to join the CDM. These carbon credits – of hydropower projects under the CDM in developing countries – can be sold to companies and governments in rich countries, in order to comply with the Kyoto protocol.
Population relocation Another disadvantage of hydroelectric power plant is the need to relocate the people living where the reservoirs are planned. In February 2008, it was estimated that 40-80 million people worldwide had been physically displaced as a direct result of dam construction. In many cases, no amount of compensation can replace ancestral and cultural attachments to places that have spiritual value to the displaced population. Additionally, historically and culturally important sites can be flooded and lost. Such problems have arisen at the Three Gorges Dam project in China, the Clyde Dam in New Zealand and the Ilısu Dam in Southeastern Turkey. Affected by flow shortage Changes in the amount of river flow will correlate with the amount of energy produced by a dam. Lower river flows because of drought, climate change or upstream dams and diversions will reduce the amount of live storage in a reservoir therefore reducing the amount of water that can be used for hydroelectricity. The result of diminished river flow can be power shortages in areas that depend heavily on hydroelectric power plant.