In this article we will study about the HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER PLANT. A generating station which utilises the potential energy of water at a high level for the generation of electrical energy is known as a hydro-electric power station.


Figure given below shows the schematic arrangement of Hydroelectric Power plant.


(i) Dam – A dam is a barrier which stores water and creates water head. Dams are built of concrete or stone masonary, earth or rock fill. The type and arrangement depends upon the topography of the site. A masonary dam may be built in a narrow canyon. An earth dam may be best suited for a wide valley. The type of dam also depends upon the foundation conditions, local materials and transportation available, occurrence of earthquakes and other hazards.

(ii) Spillways- There are times when the river flow exceeds the storage capacity of the reservoir. Such a situation arises during heavy rainfall in the catchment area. In order to discharge the surplus water from the storage reservoir into the river on the down-stream side of the dam, spillways are used. Spillways are constructed of concrete piers on the top of the dam. Gates are provided between these piers and surplus water is discharged over the crest of the dam by opening these gates.

(iii) Headworks- The headworks consists of the diversion structures at the head of an intake. They generally include booms and racks for diverting floating debris, sluices for by-passing debris and sediments and valves for controlling the flow of water to the turbine. The flow of water into and through headworks should be as smooth as possible to avoid head loss and cavitation. For this purpose, it is necessary to avoid sharp corners and abrupt contractions or enlargements.

(iv) Surge tank- Open conduits (water pipe) leading water to the turbine require no protection. However, when closed conduits are used, protection becomes necessary to limit the abnormal pressure in the conduit. For this reason, closed conduits are always provided with a surge tank. A surge tank is a small reservoir or tank (open at the top) in which water level rises or falls to reduce the pressure swings in the conduit. A surge tank is located near the beginning of the conduit. When the turbine is running at a steady load, there are no surges in the flow of water through the conduit i.e., the quantity of water flowing in the conduit is just sufficient to meet the turbine requirements. However, when the load on the turbine decreases, the governor closes the gates of turbine, reducing water supply to the turbine. The excess water at the lower end of the conduit rushes back to the surge tank and increases its water level. Thus the conduit is prevented from bursting. On the other hand, when load on the turbine increases, additional water is drawn from the surge tank to meet the increased load requirement. Hence, a surge tank overcomes the abnormal pressure in the conduit when load on the turbine falls and acts as a reservoir during increase of load on the turbine.

(v) Penstocks- Penstocks are open or closed conduits which carry water to the turbines. They are generally made of reinforced concrete or steel. Concrete penstocks are suitable for low heads (< 30 m) as greater pressure causes rapid deterioration of concrete. The steel penstocks can be designed for any head; the thickness of the penstock increases with the head or working pressure.

Various devices such as automatic butterfly valve, air valve  are provided for the protection of penstocks. Automatic butterfly valve shuts off water flow through the penstock promptly if it ruptures. Air valve maintains the air pressure inside the penstock equal to outside atmospheric pressure.


The dam is constructed across a river or lake and water from the catchment area collects at the back of the dam to form a reservoir. A pressure tunnel is taken off from the reservoir and water brought to the valve house at the start of the penstock. The valve house contains main sluice valves and automatic isolating valves. The former controls the water flow to the power house and the latter cuts off supply of water when the penstock bursts. From the valve house, water is taken to water turbine through a huge steel pipe known as penstock. The water turbine converts hydraulic energy into mechanical energy. The turbine drives the alternator which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. A surge tank (open from top) is built just before the valve house and protects the penstock from bursting in case the turbine gates suddenly close* due to electrical load being thrown off. When the gates close, there is a sudden stopping of water at the lower end of the penstock and consequently the penstock can burst like a paper log. The surge tank absorbs this pressure swing by increase in its level of water.

Advantages of Hydroelectric Power Plant

 (i) It requires no fuel as water is used for the generation of electrical energy.

(ii) It is quite neat and clean as no smoke or ash is produced.

(iii) It requires very small running charges because water is the source of energy which is available free of cost.

 (iv) It does not require a long starting time like a steam power station. In fact, such plants can be put into service instantly.

(v) It is robust and has a longer life.

(vi) Such plants serve many purposes. In addition to the generation of electrical energy, they also help in irrigation and controlling floods.

(vii) Although such plants require the attention of highly skilled persons at the time of construction, yet for operation, a few experienced persons may do the job well.

 Disadvantages of Hydroelectric Power Plant

 (i) It involves high capital cost due to construction of dam.

 (ii) There is uncertainty about the availability of huge amount of water due to dependence on weather conditions.

 (iii) Skilled and experienced hands are required to build the plant.

 (iv) It requires high cost of transmission lines as the plant is located in hilly areas which are quite away from the consumers.

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