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Hydropower vs. Solar Power — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Urooj Arif — Published on May 4, 2024
Hydropower generates electricity from flowing water, ideal for continuous, large-scale production, while solar power converts sunlight into energy, suitable for diverse applications and scalability.
Hydropower vs. Solar Power — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Hydropower and Solar Power


Key Differences

Hydropower utilizes the kinetic energy of flowing or falling water to turn turbines, generating electricity. This method is highly efficient and reliable, offering significant power output suitable for grid-scale energy production. Its dependency on water availability, however, can be a limitation in areas prone to drought or with limited water resources.
Solar power harnesses sunlight using photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. It's versatile, capable of deployment in various scales from small residential systems to large solar farms. While solar power's output is directly influenced by sunlight availability, technological advancements have improved its efficiency and storage capabilities, making it increasingly viable even in less sunny regions.
The environmental impact of hydropower and solar power varies. Hydropower projects, especially large dams, can significantly alter local ecosystems and displace communities. In contrast, solar power is often praised for its minimal ecological footprint, although the manufacturing and disposal of solar panels do have environmental considerations.
Economically, both energy sources offer long-term benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower operational costs compared to fossil fuels. Initial investment and maintenance costs can be higher for hydropower due to the complexity of dam construction and water management, whereas solar power benefits from falling panel prices and simpler installation processes.
The choice between hydropower and solar power often depends on geographical, environmental, and economic factors. While hydropower is best suited for regions with abundant water resources, solar power offers a more universally applicable solution, adaptable to various environments and scales of operation.

Comparison Chart

Energy Source

Flowing or falling water


High, up to 90%
Varies, average 15-20% for photovoltaic

Environmental Impact

Can alter ecosystems, displace communities
Minimal, concerns with panel disposal


Higher initial investment, low operation
Lower initial cost, decreasing panel costs


Best for large-scale production
Highly scalable, from small to large installations


Water availability
Sunlight availability

Technological Development

Mature, with innovations in turbine efficiency
Rapidly advancing, with improvements in efficiency and storage

Compare with Definitions


It's highly efficient and reliable.
Norway largely relies on hydropower for its electricity needs.

Solar Power

Versatile and scalable.
Solar farms and portable solar chargers are both viable.


Requires significant upfront investment.
Building a dam for a hydropower plant can cost billions.

Solar Power

Costs are decreasing.
The price of photovoltaic cells has fallen significantly over the last decade.


Can impact local ecosystems.
Dams have altered fish migration patterns.

Solar Power

Affected by weather and daylight hours.
Solar power generation peaks during sunny midday.


Hydropower generates electricity from water flow.
The Hoover Dam uses river water to power turbines.

Solar Power

Solar power converts sunlight into electricity.
Rooftop solar panels can power individual homes.


Ideal for consistent, large-scale energy production.
Large dams provide power to millions of homes.

Solar Power

Has a minimal ecological footprint.
Solar panels on buildings reduce reliance on fossil fuels.


Hydroelectric power.


Hydroelectric power

Common Curiosities

What is solar power?

Solar power is energy produced by converting sunlight into electricity, using photovoltaic cells.

How do hydropower and solar power impact the environment?

Hydropower can significantly alter local ecosystems, while solar power has a minimal ecological footprint, barring panel disposal concerns.

Can hydropower and solar power replace fossil fuels?

Both have the potential to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels, especially when combined with other renewable sources and energy storage solutions.

What are the economic considerations for hydropower and solar power?

Hydropower requires higher initial investments than solar power, but both offer low operational costs and long-term savings compared to fossil fuels.

What is the scalability potential of hydropower and solar power?

Hydropower is best suited for large-scale operations, while solar power is highly scalable, fitting various applications from small to large installations.

What is hydropower?

Hydropower is electricity generated by the energy of moving water, typically via turbines in dams.

How do the costs of hydropower and solar power compare?

Hydropower generally involves higher initial costs due to infrastructure requirements, whereas solar power benefits from falling panel prices and simpler installations.

How do geographical factors influence the choice between hydropower and solar power?

Regions with abundant water resources may favor hydropower, while areas with high solar irradiance are ideal for solar power installations.

Which is more efficient, hydropower or solar power?

Hydropower is generally more efficient, with efficiency rates up to 90%, compared to the average 15-20% for photovoltaic solar cells.

Can solar power be used at night?

Yes, with energy storage solutions like batteries, solar power generated during the day can be used at night.

How does weather affect hydropower and solar power?

Hydropower depends on water availability, which can be affected by drought, while solar power is influenced by sunlight availability, varying with weather and daylight hours.

Are there any technological advancements improving hydropower and solar power?

Yes, innovations in turbine efficiency and construction materials improve hydropower, while solar power sees rapid advancements in cell efficiency and energy storage.

How do hydropower and solar power fit into a renewable energy future?

As integral components of a diversified renewable energy portfolio, they complement other sources like wind and geothermal power to provide a stable, sustainable energy supply.

What role do governments play in the adoption of hydropower and solar power?

Governments can incentivize the adoption through policies, subsidies, and investments in infrastructure and research.

What are the long-term benefits of hydropower and solar power?

Both offer sustainable energy solutions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on fossil fuels.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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