Lesson #96: Hydroelectric Power

I stumbled on this video today and it is fascinating. This guy’s job is to keep 1.5 million housewives from shorting out all of Britain after EastEnders airs. And probably other stuff too, but that’s what the video covers. Now, go watch the video and I’ll wait.

Back? Good. How awesome was that?

Anyway, a propos of this guy having to keep Britain from sinking into complete darkness, a lesson on hydroelectric power. The first house ever to be lit with hydroelectricity was Cragside House in Northumberland in 1878. In 1882, the first buildings (two paper mills and a house) in the US were being lit with hydroelectric power drawn from Wisconsin’s Fox River. Today, hydroelectricity accounts for about 20% of the world’s power usage and 88% of it’s renewable energy usage.

This video is a good short explanation of how hydroelectricity works. Basically, rain and snow melt and run into rivers. The dams on these rivers funnel the water through it into a powerhouse, which is where the turbines are. The water turns the turbines, which in turn sets a shaft into motion that rotates a series of magnets past big copper coils in a generator. The electricity gained from this process is then sent along power lines and into your house. Or flat. Or whatever. In situations where more power is suddenly needed, water stored at the top of the dam is released to create extra electricity.*

For more, see here** and here.

**While the note this site makes about hydroelectric power being more reliable than other natural sources (specifically wind in this case), is generally accurate, I find that’s not necessarily true depending on the geography. Where I lived in Texas has the second highest average wind speed (according to the National Climatic  Data Centre, 13.5 MPH) in the United States and very little water. As a result, it makes sense that one would erect wind farms (there are several in the area) to supply renewable power.

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