The use of water as an energy source goes back thousands of years. In ancient Greece and China, it was already being used to mill flour with waterwheels. However, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that the first electric generators were invented, setting the stage for hydroelectric power plants.
Another key invention was the water turbine in 1848 by James B. Francis in Lowell, Massachusetts. The first practical application of this new technology was the Appleton Hydroelectric Power Plant in 1882 built by H. J. Rogers in Wisconsin on the banks of the Fox River. By the start of the Twentieth Century, there were already over 200 plants operating in the U.S. Steam turbines can be powered by burning coal, petroleum or using nuclear power but, besides solar power and eolic power, it is water and gravity that make hydroelectric plants the cleanest way to produce electricity needed to cover for our energy needs.
Eventually, resources such as coal and petroleum will be depleted and they have a detrimental impact on the environment with air pollution but, Water is a renewable natural resource that can be counted on as long as there is life on Earth. The Sun doesn’t always shine and, the wind doesn’t always blow but the water will always flow. Hydropower today accounts for around 16% globally of electric production and is continually growing. There are at least 30 different major hydroelectric projects currently under construction around the world, many of these are in China.
The impact on the environment is minimal compared to the alternatives of radioactive nuclear waste from reactors or ozone depleting fluorocarbons in air pollution from burning coal and petroleum, it simply makes better sense. Hydroelectricity will undoubtedly continue to be a clean natural resource we take advantage of for many generations to come.