Hydro Power – The State of play

By Chris Bradshaw on June 7th, 2011

The kinetic energy of moving water – otherwise known as hydraulic or “hydro” power – has been harnessed for irrigation and watermills for over 2,000 years. More recently, however, water has been used to generate electricity.

Sluices and dams were originally used for generation of electricity on a small local scale until the development of larger national schemes such as the Ffestiniog Power Station which was originally commissioned in 1963.

Hydropower contributes just 2% to the overall requirement for electricity in the United Kingdom – 17% to the European Union, as a whole, with 3% coming from small “micro hydro” projects – so the potential of hydro power as an alternative to fossil fuels remains largely untapped. However, dwindling North Sea oil reserves, massive wholesale increases in the price of energy globally, and advances in generator technology mean that micro hydro systems are attracting attention once again.

Any hydro power technology converts the kinetic energy of water moving from a high point to a lower point into electrical energy by diverting it though a turbine; the pressure of the water causes the blades of the turbine to rotate driving a generator. Water is supplied from a storage reservoir or from the natural run of a river or stream with no storage reservoir. It is possible for a micro hydro system to generate tens of kilowatts of electricity from water dropping less than 10′ and it is estimated that 200MW of electricity could be generated in this way in the United Kingdom.

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