April 17, 2024

Harnessing Hydropower: The Role of Water Turbines

Water has been harnessed as a source of renewable energy for centuries using water turbines. By capturing the kinetic energy of flowing water and converting it into rotational energy, water turbines have played a vital role in power generation.

Types of Water Turbines
Water turbines can be broadly classified into two main categories – impulse and reaction turbines, based on how they interact with and extract energy from water flow.

Impulse Turbines
Impulse turbines utilize the velocity of water to move blades or buckets. The fast moving jet of water entering the turbine hits the stationary blades and redirects its flow, imparting a spinning motion to the rotors. Pelton wheels are a common example of impulse turbines, widely used to harness energy from high head water sources. They have a high rotor speed and are very efficient for small to medium hydroelectric power plants.

Reaction Turbines
In reaction turbines, the water pressure and flow rate act together on the rotor blades to derive energy. Francis and Kaplan turbines fall under this category. Compared to impulse turbines, reaction turbines have a lower rotor speed but higher torque. They are more suitable for large-scale hydroelectric projects with lower head height. The adjustable blades allow these turbines to function efficiently across a wide range of flow conditions.

Working of Francis and Kaplan Turbines

Francis Turbines
Named after inventor James Francis, these inward flow reaction turbines are most commonly used worldwide for medium to high head hydroelectric schemes. A Francis turbine consists of a spiral casing, runner blades and a draft tube. Water enters the spiral casing under pressure and spins the runner by deflecting off its buckets. The draft tube helps recover swirling water energy by reconverting much of the velocity head back to pressure head. With 75-85% efficiency rates, Francis turbines are robust, durable and cost-effective.

Kaplan Turbines
Developed by Austrian engineer Viktor Kaplan in 1913, Kaplan turbines are a variant of Francis turbines suited for low head applications between 3-30 meters. They introduce adjustable blades and wickets that can be set at different angles according to the flow. This allows Kaplan turbines to efficiently harness energy from fluctuating water discharges typically seen in run-of-river hydro schemes. Combined with their ability to generate power at low revolutions, Kaplan turbines are ideal for handling variable flow conditions with minimal energy loss.

Design Innovations
Constant efforts are underway to enhance turbine designs and maximize power generation through computational fluid dynamics and 3D printing techniques. Notable innovations include:

– Broad channel hydropower turbines integrating multiple Water Turbines within a single housing for modular capacity expansion.

– Inclined axis turbines with blades positioned diagonally to improve hydro-mechanical performance at varying flow rates.

– Fish-friendly turbine designs incorporating helical drum structures to gently guide fish away from blades.

– S-Duct turbines channeling water through an S-shaped duct to the turbine, preventing cavitation and increasing capacity.

– Flood control turbines integrating into dams and spillways, utilizing excessive flood waters for power generation.

Growing Role of Water Turbines
With depleting fossil fuels and growing environmental consciousness, hydropower through turbines is gaining prominence as a renewable alternative. Modern water turbines today power homes, industries as well as irrigation projects worldwide in an eco-friendly manner.

While climate change impacts water availability, new storage technologies and distributed micro-hydel projects are helping optimize the untapped hydropower potential in many regions. With continuous turbine design refinements to handle silt, variable flows and minimize impacts on aquatic life, water turbines will remain a mainstay of clean, carbon-free energy generation for future generations.

Water turbines have come a long way since the earliest use of undershot waterwheels. Today’s advanced turbine technologies harness energy efficiently from small streams to massive rivers. As renewable solutions assume greater significance, water turbines will play an expanded role in powering our communities sustainably well into the future.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it