Hydropower is power generated by capturing water that is flowing downstream. The kinetic energy of flowing water is converted into electricity using turbines and generators. This electricity is then used for various household and industrial purposes. Hydropower contributes 36% to the total renewable energy output in the world. It is fast becoming a popular source of electricity generation in the world with more than 60 countries using it to meet more than 50% of the electricity needs. Hydropower is well-established and offers advantages including consistency and minimal occurrence of outages. Additionally it is an abundant energy source. Hydropower plants generally have a long life. Hydropower surpasses other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal in terms of future potential. Yet, hydropower technology is still nascent, with scope for development.
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Turbine technologies include three main designs that reflect the vast ranges of head levels and water flows. The Axial flow Kaplan turbines are commonly used where the head is only a few meters. Francis turbines are suitable for high to medium flows. In this type, water enters in radical direction and exits in axial direction. In cases of high head but low flow, the Pelton turbine is used. Here, water is channeled through a nozzle, onto a wheel with double cups.
Hydropower systems can be categorized into five types based on their size – Large (>10MW output), Small (1-10 MW output), Mini (100KW – 1 MW output), Micro (5KW – 100KW output), and Pico (<5KW output). Small hydropower plants enjoy several benefits over larger plants. Generation of large hydropower plants involves huge capital investment and management of issues like pollution during construction, and relocation and rehabilitation of affected parties. On the other hand, the adverse impact of small hydropower facilities over the environment and a nation’s budget is lesser. Small hydropower plants do not require building of large dams and reservoirs, consequently eliminating issues related to deforestation and submergence. Small hydropower projects are faster to construct. Additionally, they give a better rate of return owing to low capital investment and operational and maintenance costs.
There are three dominant types of plants based on power generating methods. Run-of-the-river plants are characterized by a low head and no reservoir capacity. They often feature a by-pass for ships. In plants with pumped storage, water is transferred up to a high reservoir for grid energy storage and released back. Conventional hydropower plants make use of water stored in a reservoir with the help of a dam.
Burgeoning population and decreasing reserves of conventional energy sources are the key factors contributing to increasing demand for renewable energy, particularly hydropower. Hydropower enjoys huge support all over the world with several governments introducing favorable policies and incentives, the key ones being Feed-In Tariffs, Renewable Portfolio Standards and financial incentives. Asia-pacific region leads the world in installed capacity followed by Europe, North America, South and Central America, Middle East and Africa respectively. The global total investment in hydropower is expected to reach $75 billion in 2020 with higher installations in countries like China, Brazil, and India leading investment growth. The cumulative installed capacity of small hydropower plants is projected to increase at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 2.9% by 2020. Key hydropower construction companies include RusHydro, Alstom SA, Sinohydro Corporation, and Vattenfall AB, among others.
Information Source: Grand View Research