How Hydropower Dams Work

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Although hydropower has been in use for centuries, largely in the form of water wheels, hydroelectricity is a more recent phenomenon. Hydroelectricity is a type of hydropower and is created as moving water powers machines that produce electricity.

The first hydroelectric power plants were built at the end of the 19th century. By the middle of the 20th century they were a major source of electricity. Today hydropower is the most widely used source of renewable energy making up seven percent of U.S. power production.

The most common form of hydropower comes from hydroelectric dams. Typically, a river is blocked by a dam to create a large reservoir of water. The water from the reservoir is allowed to flow over the dam in a controlled way. As the water falls it turns turbines and generates electricity.

Watch the video above to learn how hydropower dams work.

Sponsored

The U.S. constructed thousands of dams to generate power during the Industrial Revolution. Many hydroelectric dams have survived today but environmentalists have voiced concern over ecological damage and harm to fish and other animals.

A dam building era has given way to an era of dam removal. The largest dam removal project in the U.S. is underway in Washington where the Elwha Dam is being deconstructed on the Elwha River.


This video explainer is featured in our Energy e-book series. Click on the thumbnails below to download our free e-books or subscribe to our iTunes U course. You can also visit our e-books page to view our other offerings.

Energy e-book cover 2013_4

Examine the science of energy, from what it is to where it comes from.

Download on iBooks Subscribe on iTunes

Energy e-book cover 2013_4

Explore how humans use energy — from generating electricity to developing energy-efficient technologies.

Download on iBooks Subscribe on iTunes