Monday, October 22, 2012

History of Hydropower

Hydropower has been used for centuries. The Greeks used water wheels to grind wheat into flour more than 2,000 years ago. In the early 1800s, American and European factories used the water wheel to power machines.

The water wheel is a simple machine. The water wheel is located below a source of flowing water. It captures the water in buckets attached to the wheel and the weight of the water causes the wheel to turn. Water wheels convert the potential energy (gravitational energy) of the water into motion. That energy can then be used to grind grain, drive sawmills, or pump water.

In the late 19th century, the force of falling water was used to generate electricity. The first hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton, WI in 1882. In the following decades, many more hydroelectric plants were built. At its height in the early 1940s, hydropower provided 33 percent of this country’s electricity.

By the late 1940s, the best sites for big dams had been developed. Inexpensive fossil fuel plants also entered the picture. At that time, plants burning coal or oil could make electricity more cheaply than hydro plants. Soon they began to underprice the smaller hydroelectric plants. It wasn’t until the oil shocks of the 1970s that people showed a renewed interest in hydropower.

 

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