Hydro Power

By Katie Anderson on September 2nd, 2011


Hydro electricity refers to electricity which is generated by power harnessed from the energy of running water.

A widely used source of renewable energy, the technology for using water as a means of creating electricity has existed since as far back as the second half of the 19th Century.

Also known as hydro power, there are various types of hydro electric schemes including:

    • A pumped storage facility is the oldest kind of large-scale energy storage. It stores energy by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir when demand for electricity is low. Water will be released back through a turbine to the lower reservoir to generate electricity when electrical demand is high.
    •  Micro and small hydro systems in the UK are increasing in popularity and remains one of the cheapest forms of renewable electricity per unit.
    • Large scale hydro power stations.
    • Offshore hydro.

Homeowners can benefit from installing small or micro hydro electric systems, which work by using the kinetic energy in running water to turn a small turbine which generates electricity. The more water there is – and the faster the water flows – the more electricity generated.

For example, a small turbine on a hill stream with a flow rate of 15 litres per second will be able to produce enough electricity to power electrical appliances and lighting in an average home.

Is hydro electricity suitable for my home?

There are a couple of things you will need to consider if you are thinking of implementing this form of renewable energy technology in your home:

  • You will need to be living near a river or stream with a relatively fast flowing water course. And you will need the right to be able to build around it, so make sure you contact the relevant planning authorities.
  • If the water flow isn’t constant but varies significantly, the system probably won’t be able to meet all of your electricity needs throughout the year. So that means you’ll need a back-up power system, unless you are connected to the electricity grid.

How much will it cost?

It will depend on the location and the amount of electricity it can generate, but a typical 5kW scheme for an average home could cost between £20,000 – £25,000. 

10 Top Facts

1. Hydro power is a reliable low maintenance source of renewable energy.
2. Location is key when it comes to using a hydro electric system.
3. Hydro electricity has a considerably lower output level of greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuel.
4. Hydro electric power supplies about 20% of the world’s electricity and more than 90% of the world’s renewable power.
5. Practically all of Norway’s electricity is produced from hydro.
6. By generating your own electricity from renewables, you will be eligible for the Government’s feed-in-tariff (Fit) scheme, which means you’ll be paid for each unit of electricity you generate.
7. Around 35% of the UK’s renewable energy comes from hydro power.
8. China, Canada and the USA are the three largest generators of hydro electricity.
9. Thanks to pumped storage and reservoir storage schemes, hydro can be used to store large quantities of energy in an environmentally-friendly way.
10. Located in Snowdonia, the Dinorwig Pumped Storage Power Station can generate up to 1728 MW of electricity. The largest of its kind in Europe, the power station is open from May to August, where tours of the facility are run daily.

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