Hydroelectric Turbines: Harnessing the Power of Water to Generate Energy
As the world’s energy consumption explodes, no one can argue that there is a growing need to find an alternative to fossil fuels. The need for renewable, environmentally friendly power sources grows more apparent every day. Among the renewable resources being investigated and implemented is hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power has proven to be a clean, viable renewable resource with many benefits.
Of all the renewable resources in the world, hydroelectric power is by far the most widely used. In fact, in 2005, an estimated 20% of the world’s electricity was supplied by hydroelectric power. That’s an impressive amount of power and should not be underestimated.
Hydroelectric power is generated through the use of a hydroelectric turbine. These turbines work by capturing the energy generated by the flow of water. As water is pushed onto the blades of the hydroelectric turbine, force is generated. This force acts through distance on the spinning turbine and results in a transfer of energy. Video below will give you a good understanding on how this happens.
There are two primary types of hydroelectric turbines in use today. Both types offer renewable, efficient sources of power but differ slightly in their function and use.
The majority of hydroelectric turbines in use are reaction turbines. This type is most commonly used in situations where there is a large volume of water passing consistently through the area; this is known as high flow. The reaction turbine does not require a high head of water. The water head simply refers to the height of the water level above the hydroelectric turbine. A low head means that the water has a small drop before entering the turbine. An excellent example of a high flow, low head area is a small dam on a fast moving river.
Reaction turbines operate as water runs from a tube through the turbine. As the water flows from the tube into the turbine, the water pressure is changed and this results in energy transfer. Due to the importance of water pressure in this process, the hydroelectric turbine must remain submerged at all times. This often requires that the turbine be encased in water if the water levels at the site are not consistent.
The second type of hydroelectric turbine is the impulse turbine. This turbine operates similar to a pinwheel. As water hits the blade of the turbine, known as a runner, the blade is pushed. Impulse turbines require conditions converse to the reaction turbine. These turbines are best suited to areas with a high head and low flow. Therefore, impulse hydroelectric turbines, while less common, fill a necessary niche that reaction turbines can not.
There are many benefits to using hydroelectric turbines. Potentially one of the greatest benefits is the very low environmental impact of hydroelectric power. Once a plant has been fully constructed, no direct waste is produced in the energy harnessing process. Additionally, the water used is virtually unaffected and remains clean with no byproduct after processing. Not only is it a very clean form of power, but it directly reduces our dependence on non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels.
Another important benefit is that hydroelectric turbines are designed to run smoothly for decades. They require very little maintenance throughout their life. Maintenance typically consists of minor welding jobs to replace worn parts and costly repairs are minimal.
It is also noteworthy that hydroelectric turbines produce power often more reliably than other sources that depend on the weather. That is, fluctuations in the weather that may impact power sources such as wind power or solar power often do not impact water flow. As a result, hydropower is considered by many to be a more reliable, preferable source of power.
As with any power source, there are drawbacks to be considered. The most universally addressed concern is that, despite the clean nature of hydropower, there is still an environmental impact. In order to harness the power of the water, it is often necessary to create a dam or other barrier to stop, contain, or slow the water. Concerns have been raised that damming the water can result in increased evaporation. Additionally, a dam could be potentially detrimental to wildlife in the area dependant on the water for migration. To counter this impact, most hydroelectric facilities now include what is known as a fish ladder. A fish ladder is a structure constructed around the dam that allows for fish and other wildlife to move around the dam unimpeded.
One very exciting aspect of hydropower is the advent of the hydroelectric turbine for home use. This is often referred to as a micro hydropower system. Now anyone with access to flowing water can utilize this remarkable energy source for themselves! With minimal investment or technical knowledge, you can easily incorporate a hydroelectric turbine system into your life to meet some, if not all, of your power needs. For example, a moderately sized stream with a waterfall could potentially provide enough energy for a small home. Imagine how amazing it would be to have all of your energy needs met by simply harnessing the power of the stream outside your home! Watch the below video from youtube about how a town in the United Kingdom is utilizing micro hydroelectric turbines.
The minimum requirements for installing a home hydroelectric turbine system are simple. Your stream or river must have a minimum of 20 gallons of flowing water per minute and a 3 foot fall. The GPM can be easily measured by creating a temporary blockage and measuring the amount of time it takes the water to fill a 5 gallon bucket. To make things even easier, most manufacturers will work with you to custom build a system to meet your needs.
Even if you don’t have a large stream or river, do not discount the usefulness of a micro hydroelectric turbine system. These systems can be used in conjunction with solar and wind systems to provide your power needs. In such a system, you will have power on sunny days, windy days, and even on rainy days when your stream flows strong. Some manufacturers are even beginning to produce small hydroelectric turbine systems for drainage and run-off ditches, so if you do not have a stream, you can still benefit from this power source.
With all of the benefits associated with hydroelectric power, the choice seems clear. Not only is it a clean, environmentally friendly renewable resource, but it is also relatively simple and cost effective. As the population continues to skyrocket, so to does our demand for fossil fuels. At the same time our resources are dwindling. Now is the time to consider a switch to renewable resources. Among these resources, hydroelectric power, provided through hydroelectric turbines is a forerunner that must be considered for both commercial and home use.