Hydroelectric Energy Facts

Hydroelectric energy facts reveal that of all the world's renewable energy sources, water (hydro) is one of the oldest and most often used. Hydroelectricity is generated by harnessing the flow of water.

Before electricity became widely used in industry, flowing water was harnessed to power saw mills, flour mills, textile machines, and for irrigation. Hydroelectric energy is truly a versatile renewable energy source that still offers great potential. On this page, we'll examine several hydroelectric energy facts.

Water, the Renewable Energy Source

Hydroelectric Power Plants

In hydro power plants, hydroelectric turbines generate electrical power in a similar way to wind turbines. The mechanical force of moving water is channeled through a conduit to spin the blades of large turbines connected to electrical generators. Sometimes, power can be generated in a "run of the river" system if the river has a strong enough current and an ample supply of water to spin the turbine blades.

The kinetic energy of falling water can also be converted to hydroelectric energy using water diverted around the natural drop of a waterfall to power the turbines. Good examples of this are the two huge Sir Adam Beck Generating Stations at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada that use the 52 meter (176 feet) height of Niagara Falls to good advantage.

Did you know that Canada is the world's largest producer of hydro electricity, generating more than 60% of its electricity from hydro electric dams?

The Canadian Sir Adam Beck Generating Stations (1,926 MW) are seen at left in the photo below, with the American Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station (2,525 MW) across the river at right.

Hydroelectric Power Plants, Niagara Falls, CanadaHydroelectric Power Plants, Niagara Falls, Canada
(Source: ©Westhoff/iStock.com)

Some locations may require the water to be dammed up in a reservoir to provide the drop needed to power the hydro turbines through a controlled release of the water. Hoover Dam is a good example of a reservoir system.

Hydroelectric energy is renewable so long as the water keeps flowing. It's also a source of clean renewable energy, since it produces no waste products and no harmful gas emissions or pollution.

However, some environmentalists express concerns because building hydroelectric power plants often results in changes to the environment because of the damming of rivers and streams. The natural habitats of creatures that live in and around water are often altered forever, as are the natural spawning grounds of fish that need to swim upstream.

As the source of hydroelectric renewable energy, water can also be adapted to small scale use if flowing steams or sluiceways are available for powering micro hydro turbines. Sometimes, people have ingeniously converted old grist mills into comfortable residences with their electricity supplied by a micro hydro electric generator.

Tidal Power

Rivers and fast-flowing streams aren't the only source of hydroelectric power. There's also potential energy in the oceans to consider. Wave power, tidal power, and tidal current power (shown below) are examples of harnessing the sea as a renewable energy source.

Illustrated Examples of Tidal Current TurbinesIllustrated Example of Tidal Current Turbines Producing Hydroelectricity
(Source: ©alexmit/123RF.com)

Tidal power is a source of renewable energy in coastal areas that feature a large tidal range. The strong force of the incoming and outgoing tides can be harnessed to spin turbines to generate electricity.

Canada has benefited from its tidal technology since 1984, with the Annapolis Royal Generating Station located on the Annapolis River in the province of Nova Scotia.

Annapolis Royal Tidal Power Station in Nova Scotia, CanadaAnnapolis Royal Tidal Power Station in Nova Scotia, Canada
(Source: ©onepony/Depositphotos.com)

The world's third largest and the only one of its kind in North America, the Canadian tidal power station harnesses the world-famous tides of the Bay of Fundy to produce 20 MW of electrical power.

A huge dam-like structure called a barrage is constructed across a river estuary and as the tide ebbs and flows, seawater flows through tunnels in the barrage to spin the turbines and produce electricity.

The Bay of Fundy's average 15 meter tidal bore has over 115 billion tons of water flow each day, so if harnessed to full capacity, it could supply up to 8,000 MW of electricity. It's the world's most favorable location for future tidal power development.

The big drawback of tidal power besides its high capital cost outlay is that tidal power stations can only generate electricity for the 12.4 hours each day when the tides are flowing, however, tide times are predictable and the seawater resource is unending.

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for additional information about tidal energy and the Annapolis Royal Generating Station.

Tidal Stream Power and Ocean Wave Power

Tidal stream power operates in a similar fashion to tidal power, but the energy is harnessed from the continuous currents in the sea. It's a relatively new technology that's still being researched, but it does look promising.

Ocean wave power is also a new technology that uses devices which either float on top of the waves or uses the displacement of air by the waves to generate electricity. Experts believe that once it's perfected and used, ocean wave power can produce more energy than other hydro electric energy sources.

Summary of Hydroelectric Energy Facts

What we've learned through these hydroelectric energy facts is that hydroelectricity is a renewable energy source that promises to meet much of the world's future energy needs. It's green, clean, abundant and renewable, and we have yet to harness it fully.

Click Here for Information about Other Types of Renewable Energy

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