Large and specialized industrial facilities

Although no official definition exist for the capacity range of large hydroelectric power stations, facilities from over a few hundred megawatts to more than 10 GW is generally considered large hydroelectric facilities. Currently, only three facilities over 10 GW (10,000 MW) are in operation worldwide; Three Gorges Dam at 22.5 GW, Itaipu Dam at 14 GW, and Guri Dam at 10.2 GW. Large-scale hydroelectric power stations are more commonly seen as the largest power producing facilities in the world, with some hydroelectric facilities capable of generating more than double the installed capacities of the current largest nuclear power stations.

While many hydroelectric projects supply public electricity networks, some are created to serve specific industrial enterprises. Dedicated hydroelectric projects are often built to provide the substantial amounts of electricity needed for aluminium electrolytic plants, for example. The Grand Coulee Dam switched to support Alcoa aluminium in Bellingham, Washington, United States for American World War II airplanes before it was allowed to provide irrigation and power to citizens (in addition to aluminium power) after the war. In Suriname, the Brokopondo Reservoir was constructed to provide electricity for the Alcoa aluminium industry. New Zealand's Manapouri Power Station was constructed to supply electricity to the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point.

The construction of these large hydroelectric facilities and the changes it makes to the environment, are often too at very large scales, creating just as much damage to the environment as at helps it by being a renewable resource. Many specialized organizations, such as the International Hydropower Association, look into these matters on a global scale.


Small hydro is the development of hydroelectric power on a scale serving a small community or industrial plant. The definition of a small hydro project varies but a generating capacity of up to 10 megawatts (MW) is generally accepted as the upper limit of what can be termed small hydro. This may be stretched to 25 MW and 30 MW in Canada and the United States. Small-scale hydroelectricity production grew by 28% during 2008 from 2005, raising the total world small-hydro capacity to 85 GW. Over 70% of this was in China (65 GW), followed by Japan (3.5 GW), the United States (3 GW), and India (2 GW).

Small hydro plants may be connected to conventional electrical distribution networks as a source of low-cost renewable energy. Alternatively, small hydro projects may be built in isolated areas that would be uneconomic to serve from a network, or in areas where there is no national electrical distribution network. Since small hydro projects usually have minimal reservoirs and civil construction work, they are seen as having a relatively low environmental impact compared to large hydro. This decreased environmental impact depends strongly on the balance between stream flow and power production.

Micro Hydro

Micro hydro is a term used for hydroelectric power installations that typically produce up to 100 KW of power. These installations can provide power to an isolated home or small community, or are sometimes connected to electric power networks. There are many of these installations around the world, particularly in developing nations as they can provide an economical source of energy without purchase of fuel. Micro hydro systems complement photovoltaic solar energy systems because in many areas, water flow, and thus available hydro power, is highest in the winter when solar energy is at a minimum.

Pico Hydro

Pico hydro is a term used for hydroelectric power generation of under 5 KW. It is useful in small, remote communities that require only a small amount of electricity. For example, to power one or two fluorescent light bulbs and a TV or radio for a few homes. Even smaller turbines of 200-300W may power a single home in a developing country with a drop of only 1 m (3 ft). Pico-hydro setups typically are run-of-the-river, meaning that dams are not used, but rather pipes divert some of the flow, drop this down a gradient, and through the turbine before being exhausted back to the stream.