The History of Hydroelectric Power

The use of hydropower goes way back from 202 BC to 9 AD in China (Han Dynasty). They used a water wheel to power trip hammers that made paper, break ore, and hull and pound grain during that period. Since then, the technology has evolved significantly.

The beginning of economic growth is closely linked to the utilization of hydroelectric power. In 1771, Richard Arkwright from England set up a Cromford Mill in the Derwent valley to twirl cotton, the first system he built using hydropower.

Turbine Technology Inventions

One of the keys that pushed hydropower technology forward happened during the 19th century. A French engineer named Benoit Fourneyron created a turbine that could produce six horsepower, the first version of the reaction turbines he developed in 1827.

In 1849, James Francis, a British-American engineer, built the first modern turbine, the commonly used water turbine that we use today. In 1880, Lester Pelton developed his own patented impulse turbine. As the 20th century came, Viktor Kaplan, an Austrian professor, created the Kaplan water turbine, which is a turbine that propels and has adjustable blades.

Hydropower Projects in History

The first hydropower project in history was utilized to power one lamp in England in the year 1878. After four years, the first hydropower plant to serve commercial and private customers unfolded in the United States. Then, within ten years, over a hundred hydropower plants operated.

Below are the places and years where hydroelectric plants were built:

  • North American (Michigan) – 1880
  • Ottawa, Ontario – 1881
  • New York
  • Dolgeville (1881)
  • Niagara Falls (1881)

These plants were made to light local buildings and supply mills. At the end of the century, technology began to spread all over the globe. Germany produced its first hydropower technology in 1891. Also, Australia launched its first public hydropower plant in 1895. Also, in the same year, the largest hydropower development worldwide was developed (Edward Dean Adams Power Plant at Niagara Falls).

By 1900, the world ran more than a hundred small hydroelectric power plants. In 1905 in China, a hydropower station was constructed on a creek close to Taipei, having 500 kW of installed capacity.

There were rapid changes and innovations in hydroelectric power facility design. President Franklin Roosevelt’s policies in the US supported the development of many multipurpose projects, including the Grand Coulee and Hoover dams, which contributed to 40% of electricity generation in the US during 1940.