Types of Hydropower Turbines

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There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water—referred to as "head"—and the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Terms used on this page are defined in the glossary.

Impulse Turbine

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

  • Pelton
    Photo of a Pelton hydropower turbine.

    A pelton wheel has one or more free jets discharging water into an aerated space and impinging on the buckets of a runner. Draft tubes are not required for impulse turbine since the runner must be located above the maximum tailwater to permit operation at atmospheric pressure.

    A Turgo Wheel is a variation on the Pelton and is made exclusively by Gilkes in England. The Turgo runner is a cast wheel whose shape generally resembles a fan blade that is closed on the outer edges. The water stream is applied on one side, goes across the blades and exits on the other side.

  • Cross-Flow

    A cross-flow turbine is drum-shaped and uses an elongated, rectangular-section nozzle directed against curved vanes on a cylindrically shaped runner. It resembles a "squirrel cage" blower. The cross-flow turbine allows the water to flow through the blades twice. The first pass is when the water flows from the outside of the blades to the inside; the second pass is from the inside back out. A guide vane at the entrance to the turbine directs the flow to a limited portion of the runner. The cross-flow was developed to accommodate larger water flows and lower heads than the Pelton.

Reaction Turbine

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

  • Propeller
    Photo of a Propeller hydropower turbine.

    A propeller turbine generally has a runner with three to six blades in which the water contacts all of the blades constantly. Picture a boat propeller running in a pipe. Through the pipe, the pressure is constant; if it isn't, the runner would be out of balance. The pitch of the blades may be fixed or adjustable. The major components besides the runner are a scroll case, wicket gates, and a draft tube. There are several different types of propeller turbines:

    • Bulb turbine
      Photo of a Bulb hydropower turbine.

      The turbine and generator are a sealed unit placed directly in the water stream.

    • Straflo

      The generator is attached directly to the perimeter of the turbine.

    • Tube turbine

      The penstock bends just before or after the runner, allowing a straight line connection to the generator.

    • Kaplan
      Photo of a Kaplan hydropower turbine.

      Both the blades and the wicket gates are adjustable, allowing for a wider range of operation.

  • Francis
    Photo of a Francis hydropower turbine.

    A Francis turbine has a runner with fixed buckets (vanes), usually nine or more. Water is introduced just above the runner and all around it and then falls through, causing it to spin. Besides the runner, the other major components are the scroll case, wicket gates, and draft tube.

  • Kinetic

    Kinetic energy turbines, also called free-flow turbines, generate electricity from the kinetic energy present in flowing water rather than the potential energy from the head. The systems may operate in rivers, man-made channels, tidal waters, or ocean currents. Kinetic systems utilize the water stream's natural pathway. They do not require the diversion of water through manmade channels, riverbeds, or pipes, although they might have applications in such conduits. Kinetic systems do not require large civil works; however, they can use existing structures such as bridges, tailraces and channels.

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