Hydropower plays a huge role on the renewable energy front and for good reason. About 71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water. With that much at our fingertips, it would be foolish to not harness its energy.

Harnessing power from water

With all that water, just how do we do it? There are many different types of hydropower, but they all work in a similar way. Natural kinetic energy produced by water is used to spin a turbine attached to a generator. The generator then passes the power through power lines to provide electricity to homes and businesses.

The video below from the United States Department of Energy, shows how hydroelectric power works and is used in the U.S.

Types of Hydropower

There are many different ways we use the water cycle to produce power. Each of them has their own specific advantage depending on the water source and size of the hydroelectric plant needed.


Impoundment is the most widely used form of hydropower and you probably have seen plants like these before. An impoundment facility utilizes a dam to hold water back in a reservoir. The water is then funneled through a channel inside the dam. The rushing water spins a turbine at the bottom to power the generator it is attached to. The water then continues out the other side of the dam and heads downstream.


Diversion facilities follow the same basic system as an impoundment plant, but without the use of a dam. A portion of the water is funneled through a channel leading to a turbine and then released back into the river it came from further downstream.

Pumped-storage Hydropower

Pumped-storage facilities are often explain much like a battery. The energy created is stored and distributed when it is most needed – like a battery. The most fascinating part is how the “battery” recharges itself. Pumped-storage facilities have two water reservoirs – one at a higher elevation and one at a lower. To generate power, the higher elevation reservoir is funneled through a channel to a turbine and then into the lower elevation reservoir. Then, at a time with little demand for power (typically at night), the water is pumped back up into the higher elevation reservoir to start the process all over again.

Offshore Hydropower

Offshore hydro uses tidal power to harness the kinetic energy produced by the rising and falling tides. Although offshore hydropower is a lesser used method, it is gaining quite a bit of traction. There are also systems that use waves to turn their kinetic energy into electricity. Ocean wave energy utilizes floating buoys that are attached to an arm. The arms moves up and down with the waves in the ocean producing power through a generator. That power is then transferred inland to be utilized in many different ways.

The Power of Water

The field of hydropower continues to expand at a rapid rate and for good reason. By developing more ways to harness water’s kinetic energy, we can reduce our carbon footprint.