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Century-Old Mansion Gets Hydropower Renovation

Workers put the finishing touches on England’s Cragside manor in 1863. From its inception, Cragside manor was a sophisticated showcase of the best Victorian engineering had to offer. Running water could be pumped directly to faucets in the house. However, the highlight of the property was its hydroelectric set-up.

By running water from one of the man-made lakes through a dynamo, Lord Armstrong, the owner, created the first hydroelectric power plant. Fast forward a hundred years, and Cragside is now a historic site.

Lord Armstrong created a micro hydropower site and probably inspired a renewable energy revolution. Hydropower powers billions of homes around the world, and is a clean source of energy.

What Is Hydropower?

Hydropower is energy from water sources such as rivers, lakes, oceans, and waterfalls. Humans have harnessed this power for centuries to spin cloth and grind grains, but it is Engineer James Francis who came up with the first modern water turbine – the Francis turbine. (1)

Hydropower is considered a renewable energy source because of the hydrological cycle. The hydrological cycle is the continuous movement of water, on, under, and above the earth’s surface.

Since hydropower depends on water sources, the potential to produce electricity varies with location and climate. Dry, arid areas without large water bodies have near-zero hydropower output. But wet regions – those with rivers and large water bodies – have the potential to produce electricity for millions of homes.

Sometimes, an area may have rivers, but no large reservoir, necessitating the creation of an artificial lake. A dam gets built across a suitable section of the river, diverting a portion to fill the lake. The conditions are different and largely depend on the location of the site.

Hydro Power Dam

How Does Hydropower Work?

The height of standing waterrelative to the turbine is called a head. The head determines the type of turbine used. The water drops under the gravitational pull, through a duct called a penstock, which directs it to the turbines. The turbines then spin, causing magnets inside a generator to rotate, creating electricity.

Impulse and reaction are the most commonly used turbines in hydropower sites.

Impulse Turbine

Impulse turbines are suitable for high-head, low-flow applications. An impulse turbine is rotated by high-velocity water jets hitting its blades. The water then proceeds to flow out of the bottom of the turbine. The common types of impulse turbines include Pelton wheels, turgo wheels, and cross-flow turbines.

Reaction Turbine

A reaction turbine relies on the pressure difference and moving water. The water flows over the blades of the turbine rather than hitting them directly. This flow creates a differential pressure on the blade, which is lower on the side with flowing water and higher on the opposite side.

The difference in pressure causes the blade to turn. Reaction turbines are suitable for low head, high flow applications. Propeller turbines, bulb turbines, tube turbines, and the Francis turbine are examples of reaction turbines.


When a dam gets built across a river, an artificial lake emerges. This lake offers control since the operators can choose the amount of water that will release to the turbines. These sites can generate power when it’s most needed, offering the most value to the grid.

Run of the River

Through a process known as run-of-the-river, you can generate hydropower without a dam. Such sites do not store water behind a dam and hence have less control over when to generate power.

Hydropower energy does not produce greenhouse gases, making it very clean. However, these projects have some environmental consequences that include:

  • Vegetation flooded over by dams can emit methane as it decomposes
  • Dams can reduce downstream flows, degrading habitats for plants and animals downriver
  • Dams can block the migration of fish such as salmon, which swim upriver (2)

According to actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,

Hydropower definitely fits that description, and it is an exciting prospect going into the future. You may not be able to build your own hydropower plant, but you can start by reusing water and recycling plastics.

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