|Lester Allan Pelton - Water Turbines and the Beginnings of Hydroelectricity|
|Lester Allan Pelton (1829-1908)|
By Mary Bellis
Lester Pelton invented a type of free-jet water turbine called the Pelton Wheel or Pelton turbine. Lester Pelton was born in 1829 in Vermillion, Ohio. In 1850, he immigrated to California during the time of the gold rush. Pelton made his living as a carpenter and a millwright. At that time there was a great demand for new power sources to run the machinery and mills necessary for the expanding gold mines. Many mines depended on steam engines, however those required exhaustible supplies of wood or coal. What was abundant was water power from the fast running mountain creeks and waterfalls. Waterwheels that had been used to power flour mills, worked best on larger rivers and did not work well in the faster moving and less voluminous mountain creeks and waterfalls. What did work was the newer water turbines that used wheels with cups rather than flat panels. A landmark design in water turbines was the highly efficient Pelton Wheel.
David P. Stern writes in his NASA article "From Stargazers to Starships":
To the left, you can view the patent drawing for a 1889 patent issued to Lester Pelton for an improved water wheel.
In 1883, the Pelton turbine won a competition for the most efficient water wheel turbine held by the Idaho Mining Company of Grass Valley, California. Pelton´s turbine proved to be 90.2% efficient, and the turbine of his closest competitor was only 76.5% efficient. In 1888, Lester Pelton formed the Pelton Water Wheel Company in San Francisco, and began to mass manufacture his new water turbine.
The Pelton water wheel turbine set the standard, until the Turgo impulse wheel was invented by Eric Crewdson in 1920. However, the Turgo impulse wheel was an improved design based on the Pelton turbine. The Turgo was smaller than the Pelton and cheaper to manufacture. Two other important hydropower systems include the Tyson turbine, and the Banki turbine (also called the Michell turbine).
Hydropower converts the energy of flowing water into electricity or hydroelectricity. The amount of electricity generated is determined by the volume of water and the amount of "head" (the height from the turbines in the powerplant to the water surface) created by the dam. The greater the flow and head, the more electricity is produced.
The mechanical power of falling water is an age-old tool. Of all the renewable energy sources that generate electricity, hydropower is the most often used. It is one of the oldest sources of energy and was used thousands of years ago to turn a paddle wheel for purposes such as grinding grain. In the 1700's, mechanical hydropower was used extensively for milling and pumping.
The first industrial use of hydropower to
generate electricity occurred in 1880, when 16 brush-arc lamps were powered
using a water turbine at the Wolverine Chair Factory in Grand Rapids,
Michigan. The first U.S. hydroelectric power plant opened on the Fox River
near Appleton, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1882. Until that time, coal was the
only fuel used to produce electricity. The early hydroelectric plants were
direct current stations built to power arc and incandescent lighting during
the period from about 1880 to 1895. Because the source of hydropower is water,
hydroelectric power plants must be located on a water source. Therefore, it
wasnt until the technology to transmit electricity over long distances was
developed that hydropower became widely used. By the early 1900's,
hydroelectric power accounted for more than 40 percent of the United States'
supply of electricity. The years 1895 through 1915 saw rapid changes occur in
hydroelectric design and a wide variety of plant styles built. Hydroelectric
plant design became fairly well standardized after World War I with most
development in the 1920's and 1930's being related to thermal plants and
transmission and distribution.