Editorial Feature

What are River Turbine Farms?

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River turbines are based on a simple technology designed to harness energy from flowing water, which is a clean and renewable source of power. The large-scale application of river turbines covering an area of land between 1 and 100 acres is generally considered to be a river turbine farm.

River Turbine Technology

In the past, water wheels were used to power machinery such as mill wheels. Due to advancements in technology, turbines were designed to take over the work of water wheels on a bigger scale.

Generally, river turbines are located where there is flowing water. Water flowing through a turbine causes a decrease in pressure at the back edges of the blades in the turbine, thus causing the it to turn. The faster the flow of water, the greater the decrease in pressure and as a result, the faster the turbine spins.

For a river turbine to function at its optimum level, the flow of a river should be around 3 to 4 knots. The construction of these turbines needs to be sturdy so as to withstand rubble and ice. Care should also be taken to ensure the turbine speed does not adversely affect fish and other wildlife in the area.

The energy harnessed from river turbines can be stored as well as passed on to a national electrical grid.

The World's Largest River-Based Turbine Farm

A mega river turbine farm by RER Hydro, Hydro-Quebec and Boeing is being planned for the province of Quebec, Canada. Quebec, which is already a leader in hydroelectricity production, is keen on the success of this project as it will not only provide renewable energy to the region but provide job opportunities too.

The Quebec government is ready to supply funds for the project estimated to cost about $130 million. The river turbines will be located at the St. Lawrence River. The project is to be handled in three phases at the end of which the project planners hope to gain 9 MW of renewable power from 46 river bed turbines.

The success of this large-scale project would mean that electricity can be supplied to isolated communities in Northern Quebec not on the provincial power grid at the moment. The river turbine installations are expected to start in 2016.

The Future of River Turbine Farms

There is a growing sense of urgency around the world to make use of large scale renewable energy as traditional fossil fuels are depleting and our reliance on fossil fuels is causing serious environmental pollution across the planet. In addition, the price of fossil fuels is constantly rising due the finite nature of the energy source.  

The success of river turbine projects such as the one ongoing in Quebec could pave the way for similar ventures in the future.

References and Further Reading


Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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