History of Hydropower

Using rivers to power mechanical devices is not a new concept. As far back as ancient times, thousands of years ago, people used hydropower to perform tasks such as grinding grain into flour. In the late 1800s scientists first figured out how to use hydropower to generate electricity. The first hydroelectric power plant was built in Wisconsin in 1882. Since then, many more power plants have been built in the United States including the Hoover Dam in 1936 and the Grand Coulee Dam in 1942.

Are there any drawbacks to hydropower?

Like any power source there are some drawbacks to hydropower. One drawback is the loss of land and the damage to the local ecosystem caused when a lake is created by a dam. This can also cause people to have to relocate and leave their homes. Another disadvantage is methane emissions generated by the reservoirs. Dams and turbines can also hurt fish and disrupt their migration to spawning grounds.

Fun Facts about Hydropower

  • There are over 2,000 hydroelectric power plants in the United States.
  • Many countries, such as Norway and Brazil, get a significant portion of their electricity (as much as 85%) from hydropower.
  • The largest dam and hydroelectric power plant in the world is the Three Gorges Dam in China. It provides 22,500 Megawatts of electricity!
  • Most of the dams in the United States were not built to supply power. They were built for flood control and to provide local irrigation.
  • A large portion of the hydropower generated in the United States occurs in the western states. The number one producer of hydropower is Washington state which produced 29% of the nations hydropower in 2011.