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History Of the Mighty Hydro Power

Water power has been used by human beings for centuries. Waterwheels for milling, and pumping were used in Greece at least as early as 300BC. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, water, wind and beast power were the only sources of mechanical assistance. Improvements in the use of hydropower continued, as efforts were made to improve the efficiency of the water wheel. Much of this early hydropower research occurred in France since the French did not have access to coal deposits at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The first recorded use of water power was a clock, built around 250 BC. Since that time, humans have used falling water to provide power for grain and saw mills, as well as a host of other applications. The first use of moving water to produce electricity was a waterwheel at Appleton on the Fox river in Wisconsin in 1882, two years after Thomas Edison unveiled the incandescent light bulb. The first of many hydro electric power plants at Niagara Falls was completed shortly thereafter. Hydro power continued to play a major role in the expansion of electrical service early in this century, both in North America and around the world. Contemporary Hydro-electric power plants generate anywhere from a few kW, enough for a single residence, to thousands of MW, power enough to supply a large city. Developments and improvements in electricity transmission and distribution methods led to a shift in the aims of hydroelectricity production in the early 20th century. High voltage transmission lines were developed and began supplying extensive distribution grids from large-scale hydroelectric plants.

Early hydro-electric power plants were much more reliable and efficient than the fossil fuel fired plants of the day. This resulted in a proliferation of small to medium sized hydro-electric generating stations distributed wherever there was an adequate supply of moving water and a need for electricity. As electricity demand soared in the middle years of this century, and the efficiency of coal and oil fueled power plants increased, small hydro plants fell out of favour. Most new hydro-electric development was focused on huge "mega-projects". The majority of these power plants involved large dams, which flooded vast areas of land to provide water storage and therefore a constant supply of electricity.
Modern day hydroelectric research is predominantly concerned with increasing the efficiencies of system components (such as turbines and generators), refining control systems and maximizing the ease of integration of hydroelectric power into major electricity grids. In recent years, the environmental impacts of such large hydro projects are being identified as a cause for concern. It is becoming increasingly difficult for developers to build new dams because of opposition from environmentalists and people living on the land to be flooded.


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