Hydropower Engineering

The Pelton Turbine (Pelton water wheel): The Past and Future of Hydroelectric Power

The world’s supply of fossil fuels such as coal and oil is rapidly depleting. At the same time, we are become more aware of the large toll that the use of these fossil fuels is taking on our environment. Not only do they contribute to increased pollution and carbon dioxide levels but mining practices required to tap these sources are often devastating.   As a result, the need for environmentally friendly, renewable power sources becomes more evident every day. One of the most exciting and widely used forms of alternate energy is hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power is known to be a clean and renewable resource with many benefits.

From nearly the dawn of recorded time, mankind has sought to find ways to utilize the power of water. We have used it for travel, for processing our grain, and for sanitation.  The use of water wheels to generate primitive forms of hydroelectric power dates back to ancient civilizations in Greece and Rome. Since its inception, hydroelectric power has proven to be very valuable and modifications and improvements have continued throughout time. One pivotal improvement in hydroelectric technology came in the form of the Pelton wheel.

Pelton Water Wheel

The Pelton wheel was invented by Lester Allen Pelton (1829-1908) during the 19th century in the United States. Pelton’s invention was brought about by a combination of necessity and luck as many important technological breakthroughs often are. It has been said that Pelton was driven to travel to the west in 1850 as a result of the booming gold rush.

In 1964, he became employed as a millwright in a busy town. At this time, the gold rush was taking a toll on the environment and resources such as firewood and water were running low. This was pivotal because at the same time the demand for power was increasing rapidly.

However, the Pelton wheel differs from traditional impulse water turbines in one very important way. On the Pelton wheel, each of the cups is split down the middle, typically by a metal divider.

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