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In 1882, a waterwheel located on the north flowing Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, supplied the first hydroelectric power to two paper mills and a house. Today, rushing bodies of water like Niagara Falls in Canada and the Hoover Dam in Nevada produce nearly 10 percent of the electricity used in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Hydroelectricity takes flowing water and converts it to electrical energy using a water turbine and a generator. The amount of potential energy produced by the water largely depends on the distance between the waterfall or dam and the river where the water lands. Higher falls produce more energy.

Pumped Storage Units

At times when there is a high demand for electricity, hydroelectric pumped storage units are activated to add more power to the electric grid. This type of hydropower is created by using a reversible engine called a turbine to move water from a lower reservoir to an elevated body of water during off-peak periods when energy is cheaper. When the electricity is needed, the water is released back to the lower reservoir through the turbine to generate the power.

Hydropower in Ohio

Since 1987, the City of Columbus has been generating electricity at the O'Shaughnessy Hydroelectric Plant located on the O'Shaughnessy Dam at the Scioto River. The plant consists of two water turbines and can produce up to five megawatts of power. The City distributes the power to its residents through electric lines owned by American Electric Power.

Water Fact

An Ohio native is credited with the title "father of hydroelectricity." In 1880, Lester Allen Pelton, born in Vermillion, Ohio, was the first to patent a water turbine. He invented the Pelton Wheel, a double-cupped wheel design that revolutionized the hydroelectric process. Later, he formed the Pelton Water Company in San Francisco.

Hydropower Resources

  • Hydropower Basics - from the U.S. Department of Energy
  • Facts about Hydropwer - Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC) is a private corporation that operates 21 water storage reservoirs to regulate a uniform flow to the Wisconsin River. The site lists facts about hydroelectricity as well as offers a comprehensive explanation of hydroelectricity.
Hydroelectric generator
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