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What is Water Power and How Does it Work

What Is Water Power And How Does It Work

Today more than ever people are looking for alternative energy sources that are renewable and that are better overall for the environment. One such alternative is water power. Water power is commonly known as hydropower or when it is used to create electricity it is called hydroelectricity. For people who are unfamiliar with this type of power production, there are many interesting water power facts. One of the most interesting is that it has a long history as a power source. In the U.S. it has generated power as far back as the 1800s. Other water power facts of interest involve how much hydropower is used in today's world. In the U.S., seven percent of the total power used in the country comes from hydroelectricity and nineteen percent of the world's electricity is produced by hydropower.

How it Works

On a basic level, the generation of hydroelectricity is not as complex as one might believe. A turbine, which is similar in appearance to a propeller, is connected to a shaft that goes into a generator. The force of moving or falling water causes the turbines to move. This movement turns the shaft which the turns the rotor within the generator. This movement generates electricity which then is carried through power lines for use in neighboring cities. When this is set up near a dam, the force of the falling water puts the turbines into motion and begins the process.

History of Water Power

Water is one of the oldest and most reliable sources of energy. It's origins as a power source can be traced back as far as 2000 years when Greeks used waterwheels to drive saw and grain mills. The use of water wheels to mill grain and lumber, as well as pump water, continued as the primary use of water power through the 1700s and for most of the 1800s. In the 1800s it was discovered that connecting a waterwheel to a generator could produce electricity. As a result of this discovery, in 1882 the first hydroelectric generating station in the U.S. became operational in Wisconsin. The station had the ability to produce enough energy to light 250 lights, or 12.5 kilowatts. The invention of improved turbines and the electric motor only increased the development of new power sites. In the early 1900s the U.S. produced enough hydroelectricity to supply 40 percent of the country with electricity. In the 1930s dams were being used as sites for power plants, with the Bonneville Dam being the first Federal dam in 1937.

Famous Examples of Water Power

There are several well-known, and even famous, examples of water power in various places around the world. In the United States there are two highly recognizable examples of water power – Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful and recognizable places in the world and has even been called one of North America's natural wonders. It is also a source of power for both Canada and the U.S. Known as the Niagara Power Project, it produces 2.4 million kilowatts of power in New York State. The Hoover Dam, which is located between Arizona and Nevada is a popular tourist attraction and a significant source of power. At the base of the dam is the powerplant, which has seventeen turbines and produces roughly four billion kilowatt-hours of power annually. States that benefit from this hydroelectric power are California, Nevada, and Arizona. Until 1949, the Hoover Dam Powerplant was the largest installation in the world. Today that title falls to Three Gorges Dam in China which generates 22,500 megawatts of energy. It is famous for its size and the numerous controversy associated with the building it, which is said to have displaced millions of people and had a profound effect ecologically. The Dam was completed and fully functional by 2012.

Benefits of Water Power

Hydropower is an alternate source of energy that comes with numerous benefits. One of the top benefits is that it is replenished by the water cycle, particularly rainfall, making it a renewable source of energy that has little risk of exhaustion. This means that there is guaranteed energy production and no need for fluctuations in terms of price. It produces no waste or pollution that comes from other forms of energy that burn fuel. Because it produces little to no pollution it helps reduce the amount of emitted greenhouse gases and improves breathable air.

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