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Hydro, Wave & Tidal Power PDF Print E-mail
Technologies - Hydro

Hydro PowerHydropower or Hydraulic Power is the force or energy of moving water. It may be captured for some useful purpose.

Prior to the widespread availability of commercial electric power, hydropower was used for irrigation, and operation of various machines, such as watermills, textile machines, and sawmills. A trompe produces compressed air from falling water, which could then be used to power other machinery at a distance from the water.

The energy of moving water has been exploited for millennia. In India, water wheels and watermills were built; in Imperial Rome, water powered mills produced flour from grain, and were also used for sawing timber and stone. The power of a wave of water released from a tank was used for extraction of metal ores in a method known as hushing. Hushing was widely used in Britain in the Medieval and later periods to extract lead and tin ores. It later evolved into hydraulic mining when used during the California gold rush.

In China and the rest of the Far East, hydraulically operated "pot wheel" pumps raised water into irrigation canals. In the 1830s, at the peak of the canal-building era, hydropower was used to transport barge traffic up and down steep hills using inclined plane railroads. Direct mechanical power transmission required that industries using hydropower had to locate near the waterfall. For example, during the last half of the 19th century, many grist mills were built at Saint Anthony Falls, utilizing the 50 foot (15 metre) drop in the Mississippi River. The mills contributed to the growth of Minneapolis. Hydraulic power networks also existed, using pipes carrying pressurized liquid to transmit mechanical power from a power source, such as a pump, to end users.

Saint Anthony Falls
Saint Anthony Falls

Today the largest use of hydropower is for the creation of hydroelectricity, which allows low cost energy to be used at long distances from the water source.

Natural manifestations

In hydrology, hydropower is manifested in the force of the water on the riverbed and banks of a river. It is particularly powerful when the river is in flood. The force of the water results in the removal of sediment and other materials from the riverbed and banks of the river, causing erosion and other alterations.

Types

There are several forms of water power:

  • Waterwheels, used for hundreds of years to power mills and machinery
  • Hydroelectricity, usually referring to hydroelectric dams, or run-of-the-river setups (eg hydroelectric-powered watermills).
  • Damless hydro, which captures the kinetic energy in rivers, streams and oceans.
  • Tidal power, which captures energy from the tides in horizontal direction
  • Tidal stream power, which does the same vertically
  • Vortex power, which creates vortices which can then be tapped for energy
  • Wave power, which uses the energy in waves

Hydroelectric power

Main article: Hydroelectricity
Hydraulic turbine and electrical generator.
Hydraulic turbine and electrical generator.

Hydroelectric power now supplies about 715,000 MWe or 19% of world electricity (16% in 2003). Large dams are still being designed. The world's largest is the Three Gorges Dam on the third longest river in the world, the Yangtzi River. Apart from a few countries with an abundance of hydro power, this energy source is normally applied to peak load demand, because it is readily stopped and started. It is also provides a high-capacity, low-cost means of energy storage, known as "pumped storage".

Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions, in contrast to burning fossil fuels, and is not a significant contributor to global warming through CO2.

Hydroelectric power can be far less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Areas with abundant hydroelectric power attract industry. Environmental concerns about the effects of reservoirs may prohibit development of economic hydropower sources.

The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal (as well as daily) high peak loads. When the electricity demands drop, the dam simply stores more water (which provides more flow when it releases). Some electricity generators use water dams to store excess energy (often during the night), by using the electricity to pump water up into a basin. Electricity can be generated when demand increases. In practice the utilization of stored water in river dams is sometimes complicated by demands for irrigation which may occur out of phase with peak electrical demands.

Not all hydroelectric power requires a dam; a run-of-river project only uses part of the stream flow and is a characteristic of small hydropower projects. A developing technology example is the Gorlov helical turbine.

Tidal power

Harnessing the tides in a bay or estuary has been achieved in France (since 1966), Canada and Russia, and could be achieved in other areas with a large tidal range. The trapped water turns turbines as it is released through the tidal barrage in either direction. A possible fault is that the system would generate electricity most efficiently in bursts every six hours (once every tide). This limits the applications of tidal energy; tidal power is highly predictable but not able to follow changing electrical demand.

Tidal stream power

A relatively new technology, tidal stream generators draw energy from currents in much the same way that wind generators do. The higher density of water means that a single generator can provide significant power. This technology is at the early stages of development and will require more research before it becomes a significant contributor.

Several prototypes have shown promise. In the UK in 2003, a 300 kW Periodflow marine current propeller type turbine was tested off the coast of Devon, and a 150 kW oscillating hydroplane device, the Stingray, was tested off the Scottish coast. Another British device, the Hydro Venturi, is to be tested in San Francisco Bay.

The Canadian company Blue Energy has plans for installing very large arrays tidal current devices mounted in what they call a 'tidal fence' in various locations around the world, based on a vertical axis turbine design.

Wave power

Harnessing power from ocean surface wave motion might yield much more energy than tides. The feasibility of this has been investigated, particularly in Scotland in the UK. Generators either coupled to floating devices or turned by air displaced by waves in a hollow concrete structure would produce electricity. Numerous technical problems have frustrated progress.

A prototype shore based wave power generator is being constructed at Port Kembla in Australia and is expected to generate up to 500 MWh annually. The Wave Energy Converter has been constructed (as of July 2005) and initial results have exceeded expectations of energy production during times of low wave energy. Wave energy is captured by an air driven generator and converted to electricity. For countries with large coastlines and rough sea conditions, the energy of waves offers the possibility of generating electricity in utility volumes. Excess power during rough seas could be used to produce hydrogen.