Hydropower Explained

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Energy Basics: Hydropower (Click to watch, 2:13)

Hydroelectric power (or ‘hydropower’) uses the energy of moving water to generate electricity. By trapping water behind a dam, we can increase the level of the water behind the dam, building up its potential energy. When special gates in the dam are opened, the water flows down through the dam and through turbines connected to a generator. The energy can then be transmitted to homes and buildings through transmission lines. Hydropower does not pollute the water nor the air. It also produces no direct carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that can cause damage to the climate. (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Interesting Hydropower Facts:

  • Hydropower was used by farmers as far back as ancient Greece for mechanical tasks like grinding grain. (Department of Energy)
  • In 2019, hydroelectricity accounted for about 6.6% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation and 38% of total utility-scale renewable electricity generation. (EIA)
  • Hydropower costs less than most energy sources. States that get the majority of their electricity from hydropower, like Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, have energy bills that are lower than the rest of the country. (Department of Energy)
  • Using hydropower avoids approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon pollution in the U.S. each year – equal to the output of over 38 million passenger cars. (National Hydropower Association)
Water flows through spill gates of Kerr Damn. Photo by Tom Bauer

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