China's Dachaoshan dam makes electricity from the power of the Mekong River. (AP)

China's Dachaoshan dam makes electricity from the power of the Mekong River. (AP)

Cutaway art shows the inner workings of a hydroelectric dam. (R. Bishop)

Cutaway art shows the inner workings of a hydroelectric dam. (R. Bishop)

The power station inside a modern hydroelectric dam (AP)

The power station inside a modern hydroelectric dam (AP)

Cambodians row their traditional wooden boat on the Mekong river. (AP)

Cambodians row their traditional wooden boat on the Mekong river. (AP)

Power From Water

Posted: July 1, 2016

Is it dark? Flip on a light switch. Are you thirsty? Take some cold milk from the fridge. Do you need clean clothes? Throw dirty ones into the washer and turn it on. You can do all these things when electric power flows to your house. Isn’t electricity great? The people living on the upper Mekong River think so too.

The electricity in your house may come from a combination of coal, oil, and gas. These sources are what we call non-renewable. That means they only exist in limited supplies. The electricity could also come from sources like wind, sunlight, and water. Those resources are renewable. They don’t run out quickly like other fuels. They just keep working and working!

The people in China and Laos have a huge renewable energy source—the Mekong River. No wonder they want to use its strength to power their businesses and homes! In order to do that, they will have to build dams. A dam creates a reservoir—a huge pool of water that acts as stored energy. This water will run through turbines—machines with blades. It will make the turbines spin, just like wind spins windmills. As the turbines spin, they will create electricity. Then power lines will carry that electricity to businesses and homes.

China and Laos would probably make money from the new dams. Laos, especially, needs money badly. But all that new power won’t be shared with the neighbors downstream. They will just get less water!