waterfall logo scratch

The History of Hydroelectricity

   Hydropower was a large part of the foundation of energy advancement. Ancient Greeks harnessed water to power grain mills by utilizing the mechanic energy of a water wheel. These wheels continued to power civilization through the 1800s with many European and American factories utilizing the ancient technology. The first high-efficiency water turbines were invented in 1826 by French engineers Benoit Fourneyron and Jean V. Poncelet.

 Turbine  Electrical energy began with the invention of the electrical generator in 1831 by English scientist Michael Faraday. This invention became the keystone of electrical technology advancement to current standards; however it was nearly fifty years later that electrical energy was first generated by hydropower.

   The first industrial hydroelectric power plant, the Vulcan Street Plant, was built in 1882 on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. This plant revolutionized hydropower by combining the electric generator with a turbine. The hydroelectricity plants constructed through 1895 were all direct current plants, and then the technology developed in 1895 with the construction of the first active current plant, Niagra Falls in Michigan.

   Much advancement took place in the hydropower industry during the 19th century thanks to notable revolutionaries, such as S. J. Zowski, who developed a turbine runner specifically for low head applications in 1914, Forret Nagler, who designed the fixed blade propeller turbine in 1916 and Viktor Kaplan, who invented an adjustable blade propeller turbine runner in 1917.

   The largest hydropower scheme in Europe is Dinorwig Power Station, which was first commissioned in 1984. Dinorwig produces about 1.7GW of power annually. The largest hydropower plant in the world is the Three Georges Dam in China, which was completed in 2008 and then produced 18.2GW of power. The scheme was expanded in 2012 to produce 22.5GW of power annually.

Resources: What is Hydropower's History? by the International Energy Agency

Main Button1 fin

Main Button4 fin

Main Button3 fin