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Using More Waters to Harness Hydropower

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Jane Marsh's picture

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Dec 11, 2020

Humans have been harnessing the force and power of water for centuries. It's a renewable energy source and powers machines. One of the traditional harnessing methods is through a dam where a powerplant converts the water's force into energy.

The first implementations of water for hydropower included the waterwheel, originating in Rome. While the discovery of electricity didn't occur until years later, water-powered machines like flour mills and factory machines worked because the wheel connected to various belts, which is why factories were built near rivers.

Now, water is a source of kinetic energy. Falling water powers turbines, which convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. Although dams are still used to create electricity, multiple other ways have been invented to utilize water's potential.

Using more water to harness hydropower has made water a leading energy source, powering almost 7% of the United State's electricity. Here are some innovative ways that water is being used to harness hydropower.

Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen fuel is a cleaner fuel and only produces water when burned, unlike fossil fuels. The traditional method of producing hydrogen fuel involves a thermal process and electrolysis.

However, researchers have been working on a way to isolate hydrogen from water, so in the end, water powers a fuel that then produces water. This makes it a cyclical process and is a highly renewable resource that comes from water.


The average raindrop isn't going to be able to produce enough energy to create power. The available energy, combined with the energy of all of the other raindrops in a downpour, could produce enough electricity to power a very small machine.

A special plastic created by the French Atomic Energy Commission transforms the vibration of a raindrop into electricity. Further research and study would need to be conducted, but this hydropower would have an advantage over solar power because it could generate electricity even on a cloudy, rainy day.

Large Bodies of Water

Lakes lead in producing hydropower. The dams that generate water into electricity need to get the water from somewhere, and that somewhere is a lake or reservoir. The demand for energy from these lakes is high, so the lakes must be kept clean and safe to meet the energy needs.

Oceans and seas are also responsible for hydropower generation. Tidal barrages are most commonly built in oceans, which act similar to turbines in a dam. Other methods are tested to gather energy from the sea through tidal currents and waves to further the potential of renewable water energy.


Turbines have been installed in canals to produce energy. Water in a channel is slow-moving, but even the slow motion of the water can create hydropower. One turbine in a canal can produce enough electricity to power seven homes per year, or 80-gigawatt hours.

Placing multiple turbines in a row allows the most energy to contract from the canal waters. Canals all across the United States stretch miles and miles, so there is a lot of potential for renewable energy throughout the country. Every little bit of power helps decrease the use of fossil fuels.

Unused Dams

Thousands of dams around the country sit, waiting to be equipped with the technology needed to generate power. These dams have a tremendous opportunity to develop into dams that can create power.

While the upfront costs of installing turbines into these dams could be expensive, the payoff at the end of having more renewable energy sources is worth it. Plus, since the infrastructure already exists for most federally owned dams, it would be easy to add the generation equipment, and no money would be used to construct an entirely new dam.

The Great Potentials of Water

Hydropower has come a long way since the use of water wheels in ancient days. Hydropower counts for a majority of the renewable energy sources. As progress continues on newer ways to use power, water could generate enough power to provide energy and electricity for entire cities and states.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 11, 2020

However, researchers have been working on a way to isolate hydrogen from water, so in the end, water powers a fuel that then produces water. This makes it a cyclical process and is a highly renewable resource that comes from water.

It's a cyclical process, but would it be any more efficient than other methods of generating hydrogen as stored energy?

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 14, 2020

Great ideas. Hydro is a great 24/7 resource. In dry Arizona we have more than 7 major dams with 50 year old hydro equipment. They are mainly to control flooding the few times we get rain. I have been getting them upgraded each time there is a repair needed. It really pays off and could double the output as well as make them more reliable. 

   A little known FACT. Nicola Tesla came up with AC power from Hydro in the early 1900's for the Buffalo NY world exposition. They sent the power over 20 miles which DC power could not do. It has changed the GRID all over the world. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Dec 15, 2020

So, what are the constraints that prevent these sources of power from being utilized? Investment capital? Transmission infrastructure? Power demand?

Jane Marsh's picture
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