In a hydropower system, water is routed through a series of components that produce power.
The first component is the water diversion or “intake”. This is where the water is diverted from its source, whether it is a reservoir or river. The intake serves two purposes: first it provides a constant, consistent water supply; second, it provides a place to remove debris that can damage equipment.
The second component is the pipeline or “penstock”. The penstock moves the water from the diversion to the turbine. The importance of using a penstock is that it focuses all of the water’s energy to the turbine while reducing friction and energy dissipation that would occur in a stream or river. The penstock needs to be sized appropriately for the system.
The third component is the powerhouse – housing for the main generating equipment, such as the turbine, generator, and system controls. The water hits the turbine which then rotates and converts the water’s energy into the rotational force that drives the generator. There are several different types of turbines and each has its own benefits and flaws.
The turbine is connected to the generator by the drive system. The drive system allows for maximum power generation by optimizing generator RPM and frequency.
The generator takes the force from the turbine and converts it into electrical power. Most large generators produce AC (alternating current) power, however smaller systems may produce DC (direct current) power that can then be converted to AC if necessary.
As with any system, there must be controls. These controls ensure that the various components are operating properly and efficiently in order to protect the equipment. If one part of the system has stopped operating or is operating out of control, other components may suffer damage as a result. Most systems are set-up with a shutdown mechanism in case of equipment failure.