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3 Different Types of Hydroelectric Power

3 Different Types of Hydroelectric Power

Welcome to this article, where you will discover three distinct variations of hydroelectric power plants. Hydroelectric energy is acknowledged as one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly ways to generate electricity. It is not only a renewable source of power, but it also doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases. Furthermore, hydroelectricity is readily reachable in nearly every corner of the world. In the subsequent sections, the reader will be accustom to various categories of hydroelectric power plants.

3 Different Types of Hydroelectric Power

What are the different types of hydroelectric power

There are three types of hydroelectric power: run-of river hydropower, hydroelectric dams and tidal power.
Run-of-river hydropower is the simples of them all, and consists of a turbine installed in a stream of flowing water. The kinetic energy of moving water turns the turbine, which is connected to a generator.

Hydroelectric dams are the most common hydropower-generating powerplants. Dams rely on the gravitational potential energy of water, stored in a reservoir built of concrete, steel, rocks or earth.

Tidal power is the least common method of generating hydroelectricity. Tidal powerplants are typically located offshores, and use the kinetic energy of waves to generate electricity.

Each one of these three types of hydroelectric power comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Run-of-river hydropower

types of hydroelectric power
A large scale run-of-river hydropower plant

Run-of-river hydropower is the simplest of all types of hydroelectric power and is usually found in rural areas. It works by using the natural flow of a river to turn turbines and generate electricity. This type of power is low-cost, fast to build, and can be used to provide baseload electricity generation.

Run-of-river hydropower is also the oldest form of hydropower. Dating back several thousands of years, our ancestors built large turbines at rivers to grind wheat. That’s right, historic wheat mills harnessed the power of moving water to crush grain.

Run-of-river hydropower is still quite common today. There are powerplants of varying sizes: ones that are built on small streams and produce just enough electricity to power a single house, or large scale powerplants that are built across major rivers, generating several thousand megawatts of electricity.

Advantages of Run-of-river hydropower:

1. They are relatively easy and cheap to build.

2. They provide a steady stream of electricity with no additional requirements.

3. They can be used to power private properties that do not have proper access to the grid.

Disadvantages of Run-of-river-hydropower:

1. They produce too little power in most occasions.

2. They tend to get damaged easily, and are often accompanied by costly maintenance.

Hydroelectric dams

types of hydroelectric power
Hoover Dam, Colorado river

hydroelectric dams are the most common types of hydroelectric powerplants, and the electricity they produce is the most common of the types of hydroelectric power circulated in the grid. They use the energy of falling water to turn turbines and produce electricity. The three main types of hydroelectric dams are: concrete, arch, and weir (small dams).

Regardless of the type of hydroelectric dam in discussion, they all work the same way: using the water stored in the reservoir to generate power.

Water stored in the reservoir contain a large amount of gravitational potential energy, since the reservoir is build on high ground. Water is released downstream through a floodgate, in controlled amounts. When water flows downwards, the gravitational potential energy gets converted to kinetic energy.

The kinetic energy of flowing water is used to turn turbines, which are connected a generator. The generator converts the kinetic energy to electrical energy, which is then transmitted through the grid.

Advantages of hydroelectric dams:

Let’s dive into the wonderful world of hydroelectric dams! These towering structures are incredibly efficient, as they can convert a substantial amount of energy into electricity. In fact, they are so good at their job that they put most other methods of generating power to shame.

And don’t even get us started on the cost! Dams can produce electricity at a significantly lower cost than many other power sources out there. They are a bargain that won’t break the bank.

Speaking of producing, dams can generate an impressive amount of electricity. It’s no wonder that a single dam can power an entire town. Move over, coal plants, there’s a new sheriff in town!

And when it comes to reliability, dams have got it covered. These dependable powerhouses can be easily controlled by adjusting the flood gates based on demand. They’re like the Swiss Army Knife of power sources, always there when you need them.

Disadvantages of hydroelectric dams:

While hydroelectric dams may seem like a dream come true, there are a few downsides that we should discuss. Firstly, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the cost. Building a dam can cost a pretty penny, and we’re not talking about just any penny. We’re talking billions of dollars here, folks. But hey, when you’re producing electricity like a boss, you’ve got to spend money to make money, right?

But the price tag isn’t the only concern. Safety is also a big issue, as a breach in the dam could result in a wave of biblical proportions. We’re talking about a tsunami that would make the one in “The Day After Tomorrow” look like a kiddie pool splash. So, it’s safe to say that dam safety is nothing to be taken lightly.

Last but not least, dams can’t just be built anywhere. They require a very specific location where the water supply is plentiful. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but instead of a needle, it’s a location for a dam. But once you find it, you’ll be able to power an entire town

Tidal power

types of hydroelectric power
An underwater turbine

Unlike other types of hydroelectric power on this list, there are several completely different ways tidal power can be generated. What they all have in common is that the harness the kinetic energy in ocean waves to generate electricity. Two common types of tidal powerplants are wave buoys and tidal turbines.

Tidal turbines are in many ways similar to wind turbines. The only major difference is that while wind turbines use the kinetic energy present in air (wind), tidal turbines use kinetic energy present in water (waves) to generate power. In tidal turbines, an underwater turbine spins as a wave passes by, “pushing” on its blades.

Wave buoys, on the other hand, bop up and down as a wave passes by. This movement is transferred to a hydraulic pump, which pushes water at a high speed through a system. The pumped water will flow past a turbine, turning it and generating power as it exits the other end of the system.

Advantages of tidal power:

1. It will potentially never run out, since we will always have waves.

2. It is a reliable source of power. Ocean tides will be present throughout the seasons.

Disadvantages of tidal power:

1. It is expensive to build, since several wave buoys or underwater turbines will have to be built.

2. The equipment used in tidal powerplants require frequent repairs, which brings up maintenance costs.


Hydropower is without doubt one of the most prominent sources of renewable energy out there today. Many countries have invested heavily into building hydropower plants and with good reason.

There are three main types of hydroelectric power: Run-of-river, Hydroelectric dams and Tidal power.

Each one out of these three types of hydroelectric power comes with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you are interested in learning more about hydropower, be sure to visit our hydropower category page! You will find a blog written on every topic you’re interested in.

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