Hydropower has been a key source of electricity for centuries due to its low operating costs.
Hydropower technology

Technologies: Hydropower Technology

Compared to large-scale hydro, run-of-the-river hydropower is aimed at reducing environmental impact.

Solas Energy offers feasibility assessments for identifying the potential for run-of-the-river hydropower as a source of electricity for off-grid loads. We have reviewed hydropower as one of many renewable energy sources for off-grid clients seeking to decarbonize their power supply.

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Hydropower is a power source that is also known as water power or hydroelectric power. It is, in fact, one of the oldest and also largest sources of renewable energy, and has high energy efficiency. Hydropower facilities come in all sizes, but some of the most commonly thought of is large dams like the Hoover Dam in Nevada. Some of the facilities can even be damless and utilize diversions or run of river facilities. 

Hydropower functions by using either falling or fast-moving and fast-running water to produce electricity and power machines. This is a very basic explanation. Hydropower produces this electricity by converting the gravitational power of the water– or the kinetic energy– and spinning a generator. 

The electricity generation comes from the generator. Water flows through a pipe to this generator and spins the blades in the turbine that spins the generator. The stronger the force of the water, the faster the blades spin, and the more energy or electricity that is ultimately produced.

This is an overview of how most conventional hydropower plants work– including pumped storage hydropower systems and run-of-the-river systems.

Hydropower is renewable electricity (renewable electricity generation) and has one of the highest energy efficiency ratings at ~90%. The electricity generation in hydropower systems and hydropower plants is safe and very usable for everyday life.

When it comes to ways of converting hydropower energy, there are three main types of hydropower plants. These are, as follows– impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage hydropower. We will go over these kinds of hydropower plants below. 

An impoundment plant is the most common type of hydropower plant. This is a plant that uses a dam to store river water in a basin called a reservoir. It is also one of the larger types of hydropower plants. 

The water is released from the reservoir as needed, flowing through a turbine and spinning it to activate the generator. The generator, of course, then produces the electricity. 

Next hydropower technology is a diversion facility.

These types of facilities are also referred to as run-of-the-river facilities. They involve channelling a part of the river through a canal or a penstock– and sometimes both– to take advantage of the river bed elevation’s natural decline to produce energy. 

This channels water flow to the turbines and is regulated by valves and gates. Diversions do not always need dams, but sometimes still do use them. 

The last hydropower technology is the pumped storage plant. It is known to work, essentially, like a large battery. These kinds of facilities also store energy from other sources, like solar energy or wind energy for use later on. 

Pumped storage plants store their energy by pumping water from a reservoir at a lower elevation to one located at a higher elevation. If there is high electricity demand, water is pumped back to the lower reservoir, where it turns a turbine to generate electricity. 

Lots of different tech applications can use hydropower when generating electricity. This is because hydropower can be used to generate electricity, which can then power all sorts of devices or appliances. Hydropower is also the most common and widely used of all renewable energy sources. 

Electricity is generated by water rushing through turbines– the water turns the blades of the turbine and then it drives a generator, which creates electricity. The electricity can power all sorts of devices once collected from the generator!

The kinetic energy of falling or rushing water is not a new concept when it comes to creating power or electricity. In fact, this was actually used for grinding wheat more than 2000 years ago.

Some of the innovations in water power were actually discovered in ancient China, during the Han Dynasty. 

This was between the years of 202 BC and 9 AD. Modern use of hydropower can also be traced back to the late 19th century, not too long after the first modern water turbine was developed by James Francis, a British American engineer.

The first hydroelectric power plant started to work in 1882 in the United States. This used the waters of the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Energy technology, like other forms of technology, is constantly going to be evolving and changing. That is how the tech is able to stay competitive and also meet the needs of the consumers on an energy level. 

Without evolving, energy technology would run the risk of becoming obsolete or failing the mass-energy market. When it comes to hydropower, the big step that has been taken in recent years is the advent of marine and hydrokinetic energy– or MHK energy for short. 

This is largely considered to be the most promising advancement in hydropower technology recently. 

A quick overview of marine and hydrokinetic energy is that it implements devices that are able to harness energy from the natural motion of the seas and ocean water. 

These natural motions can commonly include tides or waves. In a bit more depth, though, these devices are rotating devices– the way they capture the energy of the water is as it is flowing and moving across a rotor. 

This new development in hydropower technology is so important because it is believed that capturing the energy that is contained in both near and offshore waves is what has the greatest energy production potential. Waves, as a power source, are also readily available and very renewable.

Hydropower is considered to be the most used of all renewable energy sources. Other renewable energy sources include wind power and solar power. Hydropower relies on the water cycle in order to be successful.

Of course, the water cycle is also dependent upon the sun. This makes hydropower a green, renewable energy source. As hydropower is powered by water– hence the name– it is a clean resource and clean energy source as well. 

It is important to note, though, that hydropower plants may alter the environment around them– potentially affecting natural habitats or land use. 

In addition to being renewable and clean, hydropower is also a climate-friendly energy resource. Most renewable energy options are as well, but fossil fuel options like oil or coal are harmful to the climate and environment.

In the case of hydropower, this energy source can generate power and electricity without producing air pollution or any toxic byproducts. 

Hydropower in the United States prevents about 200 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year. To put this into perspective, this is the same amount as the output of more than 38 million passenger cars. 

Hydropower is commonly used in Canada, and in fact, about 60% of the total electricity in the country is powered by hydropower. This means that it is actually the largest source of electricity in Canada– not fossil fuels or other nonrenewable resources! 

Canada is also the fourth largest hydropower producer in the world. It is only beaten in this category by the United States, Brazil, and China. Out of the areas in Canada that are producing hydropower, it is Quebec that is the largest producer of this energy source. 

Quebec is followed by British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario in terms of output. 

Typically, hydropower in Canada is powered by an impoundment plant, the type of hydropower plant that uses a dam. The kinetic energy in the reservoir is released and converted to electricity when it is released from the dam. 

After hydropower, Canada uses other sources of power such as natural gas, nuclear power, wind power, solar power, coal, biomass, and petroleum. Not all of these are clean, renewable energy sources like hydropower is! 

Luckily, Canada is mostly powered by hydroelectricity. As mentioned above, more than half of the country’s electrical usage comes from the hydropower that it generates. 

Interestingly, the United States beats out Canada in terms of electricity produced by hydropower, but does not utilize it as much– or as well– as Canada does. 

The United States is the third largest hydropower producer, after China at number one and Brazil in spot number two. However, the usage of hydropower in the United States is under 10%, compared to Canada’s 60%! 

Hydropower is the second largest source of energy produced in the states, just behind wind power. Also, hydropower is typically produced in the western United States, where there is more space for hydropower plants.

Like Canada, the United States uses impoundment plants most often to produce hydropower. These plants are easily recognizable as they typically make use of a dam. This certainly makes them stand out! 

Unfortunately, there are many difficult licenses that need to be obtained, and permitting processes to deal with, and this makes it difficult to try and harness hydropower in the United States. 

It is for this reason that the country is not forecasted to see a lot of growth in hydropower in coming years– at least not this next decade. This may be something to work on to continue offering clean and renewable energy alternatives!

About Solas Energy

Solas Energy provides comprehensive strategy and consulting services to support the energy transition. With over 20 years of experience in project development, construction management, and climate change advisory, Solas Energy provides its clients with the depth and perspective required to navigate the complex issues associated with renewable energy project development and climate change policy. 

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