Hydraulic power is based on taking advantage of the water fall from a certain height to produce electrical energy. Currently, the use of hydropower has one of its best exponents: mini-hydropower, with low environmental impact.

Presa de central hidroeléctrica

Hydraulic energy or water energy is obtained by utilizing the kinetic and potential energies of the water stream or natural waterfalls. In the process, the potential energy, during the water fall, becomes kinetic and moves a turbine to take advantage of that energy.

This resource can be obtained by taking advantage of resources as they arise in nature, for example a natural throat or waterfall, or by the construction of prey. For centuries there have been small holdings in which the current of a river moves a rotor of shovels and generates a movement applied, for example, in rural mills. However, the most common use today is the hydroelectric dams.

With the Industrial Revolution, and especially from the nineteenth century, it began to take on importance with the appearance of hydraulic wheels for the production of electric energy. Little by little the demand for electricity was increasing. The first modern hydroelectric power station was built in 1880 in Northumberland, Great Britain. However, the new system was expensive and the power plant closed after only two and a half years.

The rebirth of hydraulic power was produced by the development of the electric generator, followed by the improvement of the hydraulic turbine and due to the increase of the demand of electricity in the early twentieth century by industrial development. As early as 1920, hydroelectric plants generated a significant share of total electricity production.

How do hydroelectric plants work?

In the use of hydraulic energy, two factors influence: the flow and the height of the jump. To make better use of water, dams are built to regulate the flow depending on the time of year. The dam also serves to increase the jump.

Another way to increase the height of the jump is to derive the water through a channel of small slope (smaller than that of the channel of the river), obtaining a greater unevenness between the channel and the channel of the river.

When it is wanted to produce energy, part of the stored water is let out of the dam to move a turbine meshed with an electric power generator. Thus, its potential energy is converted into kinetic energy by reaching the engine rooms. The water passes through the turbines at high speed, causing a rotation movement that finally transforms into electrical energy by means of the generators.

In many countries small power plants have been installed, with powers of less than 10 MW. In many regions of China, for example, these small dams are the main source of electricity. Mini-hydropower is considered environmentally friendly, since the impacts it generates are small and easily minimized.

Hydropower offers great potential for many developing countries that are using this system with good results, as is the case in Costa Rica.