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Hydropower or hydroelectricity refers to the conversion of energy from flowing water
into electricity. It is considered a renewable energy source because the water cycle is constantly
renewed by the sun. Historically, one of the first uses of hydro power was for mechanical
milling, such as grinding grains. Today, modern hydro plants produce electricity using turbines
and generators, where mechanical energy is created when moving water spins rotors on a
turbine. This turbine is connected to an electromagnetic generator, which
produce electricity when the turbine spins. Hydro plant facilities can be categorized into three
sizes: large (>30 MW), small (100 kW - 30 MW), or micro (<100 kW).

There are three main types of hydro plants.

1. Impoundment facilities are the most common technology which uses a dam to create a
large reservoir of water. Electricity is made when water passes through turbines in the
2. Pumped storage facilities are similar but have a second reservoir below the dam. Water
can be pumped from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir, storing energy for use at a
later time.
3. Run-of-river facilities rely more on natural water flow rates, diverting just a portion of
river water through turbines, sometimes without the use of a dam or reservoirs. Since run-
of-river hydro is subject to natural water variability, it is more intermittent than dammed

Hydropower is the largest contributor of all renewable energy sources and accounts for
6.7% of worldwide electricity production. Further growth of this mature technology may
be possible, though many countries have already developed cost-effective sites. Hydropower
is an abundant, low cost source of power (where applicable), despite high upfront building
costs. It is also a flexible and reliable source of electricity compared to other renewable options,
as it may be stored for use at a later time. Dammed reservoirs can also help with flood control, is
a reliable water supply, and may be used for recreational purposes.
However, there are many concerns with hydropower, particularly large dam facilities.
Damming a river has a significant impact on the regional ecosystem, by flooding upstream
landscapes, disrupting habitats for wildlife, blocking fish passages, and often displacing local
communities. In addition, dam failures can be catastrophic, further disrupting landscapes and
claiming the lives of those living downstream.
People have a long history of using the force of water flowing in streams and rivers to
produce mechanical energy. Hydropower was one of the first sources of energy used for
electricity generation and is the largest single renewable energy source for electricity generation
in the United States.
In 2017, hydroelectricity accounted for about 7.5% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity
generation and 44% of total utility-scale electricity generation from renewable energy sources.
Hydroelectricity’s share of total U.S. electricity generation has decreased over time, mainly
because electricity generation from other sources has increased. Hydropower relies on water
cycle. Understanding the water cycle is important to understanding hydropower. The water cycle
has three steps:
1. Solar energy heats water on the surface of rivers, lakes, and oceans, which causes the
water to evaporate.
2. Water vapor condenses into clouds and falls as precipitation—rain and snow.
3. Precipitation collects in streams and rivers, which empty into oceans and lakes, where
it evaporates and begins the cycle again.

Figure 1 The Water Cycle

The amount of precipitation that drains into rivers and streams in a geographic area
determines the amount of water available for producing hydropower. Seasonal variations in
precipitation and long-term changes in precipitation patterns, such as droughts, have a big impact
on hydropower production.
Finally, hydro plants are not completely free of greenhouse gas emissions. As with most
forms of energy, carbon dioxide emissions occur during construction, particularly as a result of
the large quantities of cement used, and loss of vegetation in flooded areas creates methane,
another greenhouse gas, as it matter decays underwater.

Micro Hydro Power Plant

Micro hydro is a type of hydroelectric power that typically produces from 5 kW to
100 kW of electricity using the natural flow of water. Installations below 5 kW are called pico
hydro. These installations can provide power to an isolated home or small community, or are
sometimes connected to electric power networks, particularly where net metering is offered.
There are many of these installations around the world, particularly in developing nations as they
can provide an economical source of energy without the purchase of fuel. Micro hydro systems
complement solar PV power systems because in many areas, water flow, and thus available
hydro power, is highest in the winter when solar energy is at a minimum. Micro hydro is
frequently accomplished with a pelton wheel for high head, low flow water supply. The
installation is often just a small dammed pool, at the top of a waterfall, with several hundred feet
of pipe leading to small generator housing. In low head sites, generally water wheels and
Archimedes screws are used.

Figure 2 Micro Hydro in Northwest Vietnam


Type of turbine
The gravitation water vortex power plant or known as whirlpool turbine is a type
of micro hydro vortex turbine system which is capable of converting energy in a moving fluid
to rotational energy using a low hydraulic head of 0.7–3 meters (2 ft 4 in–9 ft 10 in). The
technology is based on a round basin with a central drain. Above the drain the water forms a
stable line vortex which drives a water turbine. It was first patented by Greek-Australian Lawyer
& Inventor Paul Kouris in 1996, who was searching for a way to harness the power inherent in a
vortex. Later, Austrian Inventor Franz Zotlöterer created a similar turbine while attempting to
find a way to aerate water without an external power source.

Figure 3 A Whirlpool Turbine

The water passes through a straight inlet and then passes tangentially into a round basin.
The water forms a big vortex over the center bottom drain of the basin. A turbine withdraws
rotational energy from the vortex, which is converted into electric energy by a generator. The
turbine's theoretical energy conversion efficiency is up to 85%; a test installation reported 73%
efficiency, and after a year of use its installation cost was just under one US dollar per Watt of
output capacity.

Figure 4 A Schematic Presentation of Whirlpool Turbine

The turbine's aeration of the water helps improve water conditions, while the reduced
speeds of the turbine and the lack of cavitation ensure that most types of fish can pass through
the turbine without danger, something which is much more difficult to achieve at normal hydro
plants that require additional structures for the fish migration.

Construction details of a micro hydro plant are site-specific. Sometimes an existing mill-
pond or other artificial reservoir is available and can be adapted for power production. In
general, micro hydro systems are made up of a number of components. The most important
include the intake where water is diverted from the natural stream, river, or perhaps a waterfall.
An intake structure such as a catch box is required to screen out floating debris and fish, using a
screen or array of bars to keep out large objects. In temperate climates this structure must resist
ice as well. The intake may have a gate to allow the system to be dewatered for inspection and
The intake then tunnels water through a pipeline (penstock) to the powerhouse building
containing a turbine. In mountainous areas, access to the route of the penstock may provide
considerable challenges. If the water source and turbine are far apart, the construction of the
penstock may be the largest part of the costs of construction. At the turbine, a controlling valve is
installed to regulate the flow and the speed of the turbine. The turbine converts the flow and
pressure of the water to mechanical energy; the water emerging from the turbine returns to the
natural watercourse along a tailrace channel. The turbine turns a generator, which is then
connected to electrical loads; this might be directly connected to the power system of a single
building in very small installations, or may be connected to a community distribution system for
several homes or buildings.
Usually micro hydro installations do not have a dam and reservoir like large hydroelectric
plants have, relying on a minimal flow of water to be available year-round.

Regulations and Operations

Typically, an automatic controller operates the turbine inlet valve to maintain constant
speed (and frequency) when the load changes on the generator. In a system connected to a grid
with multiple sources, the turbine control ensures that power always flows out from the generator
to the system. The frequency of the alternating current generated needs to match the local
standard utility frequency. In some systems, if the useful load on the generator is not high
enough, a load bank may be automatically connected to the generator to dissipate energy not
required by the load; while this wastes energy, it may be required if it's not possible to control
the water flow through the turbine.
An induction generator always operates at the grid frequency irrespective of its rotation
speed; all that is necessary is to ensure that it is driven by the turbine faster than the synchronous
speed so that it generates power rather than consuming it. Other types of generator can use a
speed control systems for frequency matching.
With the availability of modern power electronics it is often easier to operate the
generator at an arbitrary frequency and feed its output through an inverter which produces output
at grid frequency. Power electronics now allow the use of permanent magnet alternators that
produce wild AC to be stabilized. This approach allows low speed / low head water turbines to
be competitive; they can run at the best speed for extraction of energy and the power frequency
is controlled by the electronics instead of the generator.
Very small installations (pico hydro), a few kilowatts or smaller, may generate direct
current and charge batteries for peak use times.