Hydroelectric power is the world’s largest producer of renewable energy. Through the conversion of the kinetic energy of flowing water into electricity, hydroelectric power provides a steady and reliable source of renewable energy.
The same physics lie behind the design of all hydroelectric systems: A dam is used to capture and store water; pipes, or penstocks, carry the water from a high reservoir, downhill, toward turbines in a power station, with the strength of the natural pressure of the surging water often increased by nozzles affixed to the end of the pipes; the water strikes the turbines, rotating them and driving a generator that produces electricity.
The water’s flow can be utilized in a variety of ways. Conventional hydroelectric power plants use a one-way flow of water. Systems with one-way water flow can also be designed as “storage” plants, reserving enough water in their dams to offset seasonal impact on their water flow. Alternatively, “run-of-the-river” plants have limited or no reservoir capacity and rely on the natural flow of waterways to produce electricity.
Other hydroelectric systems are designed as “pumped storage” plants. This means that after the water has produced an initial quantity of electricity, it is diverted from the turbines into a lower reservoir below the dam. During off-peak hours, or through dry-weather conditions, the water in this lower reservoir can be pumped back up and reused to supply a steady stream of electricity to the plant’s customers during peak use times.
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