Hydropower exploits the energy contained in the water of rivers and streams to produce electricity. Dams, canals and high-pressure pipes control and transport this water but the key technological element involved in the energy conversion process is a hydraulic turbine.

The hydraulic turbine is a simple, reliable and well-understood component, made from simple materials. Most turbine are made from iron or steel. In the past wood was commonly used too.

The history of the hydro turbine is long. Water wheels for grinding grain were used by the Romans and were known in China in the first century AD. They were common across Europe by the third century AD and could be found in Japan by the seventh century. The Doomsday Book of ad 1086 records 5000 in use in the south of England. These early water wheels were made of wood. Iron was first used in the eighteenth century by an English engineer, John Smeaton.

The modern hydraulic turbine is a direct successor of Greek, Roman and Chinese machines. However development work in the nineteenth century has led to two distinct branches of turbine design. These are usually called impulse turbines and reaction turbines.

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