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Hydroelectricity is electricity obtained from hydropower. Hydropower (or waterpower) harnesses the energy of moving or falling water. This is usually in the form of hydroelectricity from a dam, but it can be used directly as a mechanical force. The term refers to a number of systems in which flowing water drives a hydraulic turbine or waterwheel. Most hydroelectric power comes from the potential energy of dammed water driving a water turbine and generator. Less common variations make use of water's kinetic energy or undammed sources such as tidal power. Hydroelectricity is a renewable energy source. The energy extracted from water depends not only on the volume but on the difference in height between the source and the water's outflow. This height difference is called the head. The amount of potential energy in water is directly proportional to the head. To obtain very high head, water for a hydraulic turbine may be run through a large pipe called a penstock. Prior to the widespread availability of commercial electricity, hydropower was used for milling, textile manufacture, and the operation of sawmills. In the 1830s, at the height of the canal-building era, hydropower was used to transport barge traffic up and down steep hills using the technology of inclined plane railroads.


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!Hydro-electric facts





Cragside, Rothbury, England completed 1870.

Appleton, Wisconsin, USA completed 1882, A waterwheel on the Fox river supplied the first commercial hydroelectric power for lighting to two paper mills and a house, two years after Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent lighting to the public. Within a matter of weeks of this installation, a power plant was also put into commercial service at Minneapolis.

Duck Reach, Launceston, Tasmania. Completed 1895. The first publicly-owned hydro-electric plant in the Southern Hemisphere. Supplied power to the city of Launceston for street lighting.

Decew Falls 1, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada completed 25 August 1898. Owned by Ontario Power Generation. Four units are still operational. Recognised as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering & Computing by the IEEE Executive Committee in 2002.


Largest hydro-electric power stations

The La Grande Complex in Quebec, Canada, is the world's largest hydroelectric generating system. The eight generating stations of the complex have a total generating capacity of 16,021 MW. The Robert Bourassa station alone has a capacity of 5,616 MW. A ninth station (Eastmain-1) is currently under construction and will add 480 MW to the total. An additional project on the Rupert River, currently undergoing environmental assessments, would add two stations with a combined capacity of 888 MW.

ItaipúBrazil/Paraguay1984/1991/200314,000 MW93.4 TW-hours

Guri DamVenezuela198610,200 MW46 TW-hours

Grand Coulee DamUnited States1942/19806,809 MW22.6 TW-hours

Sayano Shushenskaya (Yenisei River)Russia19836,721 MW (2005)23.6 TW-hours (2005)

Robert-Bourassa generating stationCanada19815,616 MW

Churchill FallsCanada19715,429 MW35 TW-hours

Iron GatesRomania/Serbia19702,280 MW11.3 TW-hours


Large stations in construction

Il?su Dam, one of the Southeastern Anatolia Project Dams in Turkey, Construction started on August 5, 2006.

Three Gorges Dam, China. First power in July 2003, scheduled completion 2009, 18,200 MW


Countries with the most hydro-electric capacity

Canada, 341,312 GWh (66,954 MW installed)

USA, 319,484 GWh (79,511 MW installed)

Brazil, 285,603 GWh (57,517 MW installed)

China, 204,300 GWh (65,000 MW installed)

Russia, 169,700 GWh (46,100 MW installed) (2005)

Norway, 121,824 GWh (27,528 MW installed)

Japan, 84,500 GWh (27,229 MW installed)

India, 82,237 GWh (22,083 MW installed)

France, 77,500 GWh (25,335 MW installed)

These are 1999 figures and include pumped-storage hydroelectricity schemes.


Hydroelectric power supplies 20% of world electricity. Norway produces virtually all of its electricity from hydro, while Iceland produces 83% of its requirements (2004), Austria produces 67% of all electricity generated in the country from hydro (over 70% of its requirements). Canada is the world's largest producer of hydro power and produces over 70% of its electricity from hydroelectric sources. Apart from a few countries with an abundance of it, hydro capacity is normally applied to peak-load demand, because it can be readily stored during off-peak hours (in fact, pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoirs are sometimes used to store electricity produced by thermal plants for use during peak hours). It is not a major option for the future in the developed countries because most major sites in these countries having potential for harnessing gravity in this way are either being exploited already or are unavailable for other reasons such as environmental considerations.

Regions where thermal plants provide the dominant supply of power utilize hydro power to provide the important functions of load following and regulation. This permits thermal plants to be operated closer to thermodynamically optimal points rather than varied continuously, which reduces efficiency and potentially increases pollutant emmissions. Concurrently, hydro plants are then utiliized to provide for hour-to-hour adjustments (load following) and to respond to changes in system frequency and voltage (regulation), with no additional economic or environmental effect.

While many supply public electricity networks, some projects were created for private commercial purposes. The aluminium processing requires substantial amounts of electricity, and in Britain's Scottish Highlands there are examples at Kinlochleven and Lochaber, designed and constructed during the early years of the 20th century. Similarly, the 'van Blommestein' lake, dam and power station were constructed in Suriname to provide electricity for the Alcoa aluminium industry. In many parts of Canada (the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador) hydroelectricity is used so extensively that the word "hydro" is used to refer to any electricity delivered by a power utility. The government-run power utilities in these provinces are called BC Hydro, Manitoba Hydro, Hydro One (formerly "Ontario Hydro"), Hydro-Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro respectively. Hydro-Québec is the world's largest hydroelectric generating company, with a total installed capacity (2005) of 31,512 MW.

Advantages and disadvantages

The major advantage of hydro systems is elimination of the cost of fuel. Hydroelectric plants are immune to price increases for fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas or coal, and do not require imported fuel. Hydroelectric plants tend to have longer lives than fuel-fired generation, with some plants now in service having been built 50 to 100 years ago. Labor cost also tends to be low since plants are generally heavily automated and have few personnel on site during normal operation.

Pumped storage plants currently provide the most significant means of storage of energy on a scale useful for a utility, allowing low-value generation in off-peak times (which occurs because fossil-fuel plants cannot be entirely shut down on a daily basis) to be used to store water that can be released during high load daily peaks. Operation of pumped-storage plants improves the daily load factor of the generation system.

Reservoirs created by hydroelectric schemes often provide excellent leisure facilities for water sports, and become tourist attractions in themselves. Multi-use dams installed for irrigation, flood control, or recreation, may have a hydroelectric plant added with relatively low construction cost, providing a useful revenue stream to offset the cost of dam operation.

In practice, the utilization of stored water is sometimes complicated by demand for irrigation which may occur out of phase with peak electricity demand. Times of drought can cause severe problems, since water replenishment rates may not keep up with desired usage rates. Minimum discharge requirements represent an efficiency loss for the station if it is uneconomic to install a small turbine unit for that flow.

Concerns have been raised by environmentalists that large hydroelectric projects might be disruptive to surrounding aquatic ecosystems. For instance, studies have shown that dams along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America have reduced salmon populations by preventing access to spawning grounds upstream, even though most dams in salmon habitat have fish ladders installed. Salmon smolt are also harmed on their migration to sea when they must pass through turbines. This has led to some areas barging smolt downstream during parts of the year. Turbine and power-plant designs that are easier on aquatic life are an active area of research.

Generation of hydroelectric power can also have an impact on the downstream river environment. First, water exiting a turbine usually contains very little suspended sediment, which can lead to scouring of river beds and loss of riverbanks. Second, since turbines are often opened intermittently, rapid or even daily fluctuations in river flow are observed. In the Grand Canyon, the daily cyclic flow variation caused by Glen Canyon Dam was found to be contributing to erosion of sand bars. Dissolved oxygen content of the water may change from preceding conditions. Finally, water exiting from turbines is typically much colder than the pre-dam water, which can change aquatic faunal populations, including endangered species.

The reservoirs of hydroelectric power plants in tropical regions may produce substantial amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. This is due to plant material in newly flooded and re-flooded areas being inundated with water, decaying in an anaerobic environment, and forming methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. The methane is released into the atmosphere once the water is discharged from the dam and turns the turbines. According to the World Commission on Dams report, where the reservoir is large compared to the generating capacity (less than 100 watts per square metre of surface area) and no clearing of the forests in the area was undertaken prior to impoundment of the reservoir, greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoir may be higher than those of a conventional oil-fired thermal generation plant [1]. In boreal reservoirs of Canada and Northern Europe, however, greenhouse gas emissions are typically only 2 to 8% of any kind of conventional thermal generation.

Another disadvantage of hydroelectric dams is the need to relocate the people living where the reservoirs are planned. In many cases, no amount of compensation can replace ancestral and cultural attachments to places that have spiritual value to the displaced population. Additionally, historically and culturally important sites can be flooded and lost. Such problems have arisen at the Three Gorges Dam project in China, the Clyde Dam in New Zealand and the Il?su Dam in Southeastern Turkey.

Some hydroelectric projects also utilize canals, typically to divert a river at a shallower gradient to increase the head of the scheme. In some cases, the entire river may be diverted leaving a dry riverbed. Examples include the Tekapo and Pukaki Rivers.

Small scale hydro power

Small scale hydro or micro-hydro power has been increasingly used as an alternative energy source, especially in remote areas where other power sources are not viable. Small scale hydro power systems can be installed in small rivers or streams with little or no discernible environmental effect on things such as fish migration. Most small scale hydro power systems make no use of a dam or major water diversion, but rather use water wheels with little environmental impact.

There are some major factors to consider when installing a micro-hydro system. First is the amount of water flow available on a consistent basis periods of little or no rain can greatly affect plant operation. Second is what is known as head, this is the amount of drop the water has between the intake and the exit of the system. The more head, the larger amount of power can be generated. Third, there can be legal and regulatory issues that must be researched. Most counties, cities, and states have their own regulations about water rights and easements.

Increasingly over the last few years, the U.S. Government has increased its support for alternative power generation. Many resources such as grants, loans, and tax benefits are available for installing a small scale hydro system. In poor areas of the world, many remote communities still do not have access to electricity. Micro hydro power, which has a capacity of 100 kW or less, allows such communities to generate their own electricity. This is a form of power which is supported by various organizations such as the UK's Intermediate Technology Development Group. Micro-hydro power can be used directly as "shaft power" for many industrial applications. Alternatively, the preferred option for domestic energy supply is to convert to electricity either through the use of a custom generator or through a reversed electric motor which, while often less efficient is more likely to be available locally and cheaply.

External articles and references

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International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) hydropower portal with links to numerous organisations related to hydropower worldwide

Practical Action (ITDG) a UK charity developing micro-hydro power and giving extensive technical documentation.

British Hydropower Association

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding Hydropower

Hydroelectric power

World Commission on Dams report on environmental and social effects of large dams, including discussion of greenhouse gas emissions

Edith Irvine Collection of photographs which includes the Electra Power Project, the first hydroelectric project in California located at Mokelumne Hill, California

Hydro Quebec

CBC Digital Archives – Hydroelectricity: The Power of Water

University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Seattle Power and Water Supply Collection Historical photographs and pamphlets documenting the construction of hydroelectric power and water supply facilities built in Washington State from the late 1890s to the 1950s including the Snoqualmie Falls Power Plant, the Electron Plant, the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, and the Cedar River water supply system.

Micro-hydro power, Adam Harvey, 2004, Intermediate Technology Development Group.

Microhydropower Systems, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 2005

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1], Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

New Scientist report on greenhouse gas production by hydroelectric dams.

International Water Power and Dam Construction Venezuela country profile

International Water Power and Dam Construction Canada country profile

Tremblay, Varfalvy, Roehm and Garneau. 2005. Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Fluxes and Processes, Springer.,,1-10006-22-35070329-0,00.html

Dynamic Hydropower, using Viktor Schauberger's methods.


Hydro Power - A visual directory hydro power websites. (

See also

- PowerPedia

- Main Page