What is hydropower?

Hydropower is power that is generated from moving water such as rivers.

Renewable Energy

Hydropower is a renewable energy source. This means that using a dam or a river to generate electricity doesn’t use up any limited resources like coal or gasoline.

How do we get power from water?

Falling or flowing water from a big river has a lot of energy. We can harness this by forcing the water through a pipe called a penstock. As the water flows through the pipe it turns the blades of a turbine which spins an electric generator. As long as the water is flowing, the generator will be able to provide electricity.

There are three main ways that engineers design hydroelectric power plants:

  • Storage System – The storage system uses a dam. The dam slows the flow of a river and stores up water in a lake. A portion of the water is released into the river at the bottom of the dam. The fall of the water, and the water pressure from the lake, forces the water through the dam and spins turbine generators. Dams are expensive to build, but they also help control flooding, can create a large recreational lake, and can provide fresh water for surrounding towns.
  • Run-of-the-river System – In a run-of-the-river system the turbines are spun by the natural flow of the river. These systems have the advantage of not creating a huge lake and flooding the area above the dam. As a result, they have less overall impact on the environment. However, in order to provide continuous electricity, the river they use must stay full throughout the year, as the flow is not regulated by a dam.
  • Pumped Storage System – This system is like the storage system except it uses pumps to pump used water back up into the reservoir. The way this works is that during the night, when electricity use is much less, it uses the extra electricity to pump the water back up to the top of the dam and refill the reservoir. This improves the overall efficiency of the hydropower plant.