What Is The Energy Of Flowing Water?

Hydraulic energy refers to the energy present in flowing water. It is an important renewable energy source that has been utilized for centuries in applications like water wheels and hydroelectric power generation. Understanding the energy potential of moving water enables us to harness this green energy source to produce electricity, power machinery, and more.

The energy of flowing water comes from its motion and pressure. As water moves downhill due to gravity, it gains speed and kinetic energy. The force exerted by moving water can be used to rotate turbines and generate power. Additionally, water’s pressure creates potential energy that can be converted to electricity at hydroelectric dams. With some clever engineering, we’re able to capture the impressive power of rivers, tides, and man-made water systems.

In the following sections, we’ll take a deeper look at the different forms of hydraulic energy, key principles that govern it, and various ways people have applied this renewable power source over the years. Harnessing the energy of flowing water is an invaluable way to produce clean, green electricity without carbon emissions or fossil fuels.

Potential Energy

The potential energy of water is related to its elevation or height above a reference point. As water flows downhill under the influence of gravity, it loses gravitational potential energy. The higher the elevation of the water, the more potential energy it possesses. The gravitational potential energy EP of water at a height h above a reference level is given by:

EP = mgh

Where m is the mass of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s2), and h is the height or elevation above the reference. The reference level is often taken as sea level or the point where the water enters a hydro system (e.g. the inlet of a pipe).

For a given mass of water, the potential energy increases linearly with height. When the water descends, this potential energy gets converted to kinetic energy – the energy of motion. Hydropower systems utilize the movement of water between different elevations to produce electricity.

Kinetic Energy

The kinetic energy of moving water is based on its velocity. As water flows, it has kinetic energy due to its motion. The faster the velocity of the water, the greater its kinetic energy. The kinetic energy of flowing water can be calculated using the following equation:

Ek = 1/2 ρ v2


  • Ek = Kinetic energy (Joules)
  • ρ = Density of water (kg/m3)
  • v = Velocity of water flow (m/s)

The velocity of the water flow depends on factors like the slope and roughness of the channel. A steeper slope and smoother channel will allow water to flow faster, increasing its velocity and kinetic energy. As the water flows downstream, friction will slow it down and reduce its kinetic energy. But kinetic energy is maximized at the fastest velocities.

Understanding the kinetic energy of moving water allows us to determine its power potential for hydropower generation. A higher velocity yields greater kinetic energy which can be converted into electricity. The kinetic energy represents the energy available in the moving water.

Bernoulli’s Principle

Bernoulli’s principle states that as the velocity of a fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases. This principle explains the relationship between the pressure, velocity, and elevation in a moving fluid.

As a fluid moves through a pipe or channel, it speeds up in narrower sections and slows down in wider sections. According to Bernoulli’s equation, when the velocity increases in a narrow section, the pressure decreases. When the velocity decreases in a wider section, the pressure increases.

The elevation of the fluid also impacts the pressure. As elevation increases, pressure decreases. As elevation decreases, pressure increases. So fluid pressure is lowest where the velocity is highest and the elevation is highest.

Bernoulli’s principle is key to understanding the energy dynamics of flowing fluids. It explains why planes can fly and how sails propel sailboats. The variances in pressure caused by changes in velocity and elevation create lift and motion.

In hydroelectric power, Bernoulli’s principle allows turbine blades to capture the kinetic energy of moving water. The motion of the fluid is converted into usable energy. Understanding this relationship enabled many of the engineering innovations related to fluid dynamics.


Head is a key concept related to flowing water’s energy. Head refers to the sum of elevation, pressure, and velocity energy along a given point in a stream or river. It represents the total energy available at that point due to the water’s position and motion.

Specifically, head is calculated as:

Head = Elevation + Pressure head + Velocity head

Elevation head refers to the height of the water above a reference plane. This represents potential energy due to gravity. Pressure head relates to the internal pressure of the water at that point. Velocity head corresponds to the kinetic energy of the moving water.

Head is extremely important for hydropower systems. The greater the head of water flowing through the system, the more energy can be extracted and converted into electricity by turbines. Dams are often built to increase the head before water enters the turbines. Understanding head also helps engineers optimize the design and output of hydropower systems.


head refers to the elevation, pressure, and velocity energy in flowing water

Hydropower is one of the main ways that the energy of flowing water is harnessed to generate electricity. Hydropower plants utilize the height difference or “head” between two bodies of water to run turbines. The greater the head between the water source and water output, the more potential energy that can be converted into electricity.

In a typical hydropower facility, water from a river or reservoir flows through an intake and pushes against blades in a turbine, causing them to rotate. The rotational kinetic energy spins a shaft connected to a generator to produce electricity. The water exits at a lower elevation via a tailrace. The amount of electricity that can be generated depends on the volume of water flow and the change in height between the water intake and exit.

The key principle is that the greater the head or height difference, the more gravitational potential energy water has to turn the turbines. Modern hydro plants can generate a substantial amount of electricity in a renewable and sustainable manner by leveraging head.

Pump Storage

Pumped hydroelectric storage is a type of hydroelectric energy storage that utilizes the gravitational potential energy of water. It involves pumping water from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation reservoir when electricity demand is low. The water is then released back down to the lower reservoir through a turbine to generate electricity when demand is high.

This process essentially converts electrical energy into gravitational potential energy by pumping water uphill, and then converting that gravitational potential energy back into electricity when needed. The elevation difference between the upper and lower reservoirs is the key factor that allows the system to store large amounts of energy. The greater the height difference, the more potential energy can be stored.

Pumped hydro allows energy from intermittent sources like wind and solar to be stored and dispatched when required. It provides a large-scale way of evening out differences between energy demand and energy production. Pumped hydro is the largest-capacity and most widespread form of grid energy storage available today.

Tidal Power

Tidal power is another renewable energy source that utilizes the natural rise and fall of ocean tides to generate electricity. As tides ebb and flow, they create kinetic energy that can be captured by tidal turbines or barrages to produce clean electricity.

Tidal barrages are essentially dams built across tidal basins or estuaries. When the tide comes in, the basin fills up with water. The barrage then uses the head, or height difference, between the high and low tides to drive turbines as the water flows out. Tidal barrages are essentially hydroelectric plants that utilize tidal energy.

Tidal turbines work more like wind turbines on the ocean floor. As tidal currents accelerate with the rising and falling tides, the kinetic energy of the flowing water turns the turbine blades to generate electricity. Tidal turbines can be placed individually or in farms for large-scale energy production.

Compared to other renewables like solar and wind, tidal power provides very predictable and reliable baseload power. Tidal patterns can be forecast years in advance. However, tidal power is still an emerging technology and can have high upfront infrastructure costs. There are also environmental concerns over its impact on marine ecosystems and habitats.


The energy of flowing water has been harnessed for human use throughout history in various applications:

Hydroelectric Dams

One of the most common uses is hydroelectric dams, which utilize the potential energy of water stored in a reservoir behind a dam that is converted to electricity as water flows through turbines integrated into the dam structure.


Waterwheels have been used for centuries to perform mechanical work, often to grind grain or pump water. The kinetic energy of flowing water hits paddles or buckets around the wheel, causing it to spin and providing rotational power.

Irrigation Systems

The energy of flowing water downhill under gravity can distribute water through channels and pipes for irrigation of crops and landscaping without needing pumps.

Plumbing Systems

Modern plumbing relies on the potential energy of water stored in tanks and towers to provide pressurized flow through pipes into homes and buildings.


In conclusion, flowing water contains tremendous amounts of energy that can be harnessed in various ways. The potential energy stored in water located up high can be converted into kinetic energy as it flows downward. Bernoulli’s principle describes the relationship between pressure, fluid speed, and gravitational potential energy for moving fluids. Understanding concepts like head, which is the height of water above a turbine, allows engineers to calculate the available energy. Hydropower and pump storage facilities convert the energy of flowing water into electrical energy on large scales while tidal power harnesses the energy of coastal tides. There are countless applications for utilizing the energy of flowing water including hydroelectric dams, tidal turbines, and small scale hydropower projects. Overall, the energy in flowing water is an incredibly useful renewable resource with the capacity to generate clean electricity to power many human activities.

Similar Posts