How is Electricity Generated from Water?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are two primary methods for generating electricity from water. One method uses the energy potential of trapped water in dams in a more sophisticated version of the water wheel, and the other captures energy from ocean waves. Electricity generated from water is entirely renewable, since water is an abundant natural resource and no water is expended during the electricity generation process. For this reason, many nations rely heavily on hydroelectric power because they want to promote sustainable energy production.

A hydropower dam.
A hydropower dam.

When a dam is used to generate energy, tunnels are installed in the dam when it is built. These tunnels are lined with turbines which are turned when water flows through the tunnels. As the turbines turn, they create electricity which can be fed into the grid or stored. Dam operators can determine the amount of energy produced by regulating the flow of water; most dams are capable of generating far more power than they do on a daily basis, which can be useful when there are problems at other power plants and facilities.

A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam.
A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam.

Electricity generated from water on the ocean is known as wave power or wave energy. This method of power generation uses changes in the air levels of sealed chambers to power turbines. These chambers are floated on parts of the ocean with high wave activity, ensuring that a great deal of electric energy can be produced. Not all areas of the ocean are suitable for the generation of wave power, but some seaside communities have taken advantage of the technology to power themselves.

The Hoover Dam is used to generate hydroelectric power.
The Hoover Dam is used to generate hydroelectric power.

Electricity generation is a major concern for much of the world, since demand is only rising with the growing human population. The benefit of hydroelectric power is that once generation facilities are built, it is easy to maintain and operate them. Electricity generated from water is also clean, since it doesn't involve the burning of fossil fuels to generate power. People can also generate hydroelectric power themselves, if they have access to a fast-moving body of water so that they can install waterwheels.

Using the energy potential of trapped water in a dam is one way to generate electricity from water.
Using the energy potential of trapped water in a dam is one way to generate electricity from water.

There are some drawbacks to electricity generated from water. Dams, for example, can be quite destructive when they are installed, as water will flood the regions behind dams. This has been a cause for controversy in the past, especially when dams flood valleys used by native peoples for burial and religious ceremonies. If a dam fails, it also cause catastrophic flooding, and people downstream of a dam tend to experience a reduction in available water after it has been installed. Concerns have also been raised about wave power, since it can be quite noisy and it may prove damaging to marine life.

Electricity generated on the ocean is known as "wave power."
Electricity generated on the ocean is known as "wave power."
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon935351

Does voltage depend on resistance or not?

anon327782

What can I use to generate electricity by using a high pressure pump with salt water and what type of generator?

anon267266

Please tell me an easy way to generate electricity.

anon256503

Is Singapore a suitable place for using hydroelectric power?

anon197108

I have simple calculator that runs on H2O2. I fill a chamber with water,looks like a battery, place it back and voila. I only need to fill it back when it dries up. What are the occurring processes here?

anon194805

when two stones are rubbed, sparks come. Can electricity be produced?

anon177429

this doesn't explain much, just basic knowledge of hydroelectric. i want to know how does the turbine fit into hydroelectric power generation?

anon176282

i want to produce electricity for my own house.

anon133920

This article was very helpful to me and my friends for a science project! Thank you very much. --Zoha

anon132726

This was really helpful for a science project I was working on! Thank you very much.

anon94983

good one. very useful.

anon93719

I want to produce an electricity at a village level.

anon78778

very useful site.

anon68982

i can see why it would affect marine life it in itself being present is an unnatural variable. both forms are risky and I don't agree with the idea of energy but nonetheless man is a greedy people.

anon67709

but how to create the turning effect of motors?

anon65113

i was just wondering how efficient is fuel energy?

anon35215

I want to start a project of producing electricity of 800volt in a small scale of water.

anon30562

Dear sir,

If we produce electricity through furnace oil or through hydro-power, which one is more feasibly economical? And what are its affects on environment?

Thank you

muna and muniba

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