Hydraulic Power Engineering

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hydraulic Power Engineering


a branch of power engineering that deals with the utilization of the potential energy of water resources.

Even in ancient times, mankind turned its attention to rivers as an available source of energy. In order to use this energy, man learned to build waterwheels to drive mills and other facilities. The water mill is an example of a very old water-powered device; it has survived in many areas to the present day almost in its original form.

Before the invention of the steam engine, water power was the principal motive power for production. As waterwheels were perfected, the capacity of water-powered equipment increased, providing power for machine tools, hammers, and bellows systems. Materials from archaeological research, particularly in Armenia and in the basin of the Amu Darya River, attest to the use of water power on the territory of the USSR. Waterwheels were the only power base for the development of manufacturing in Russia in the 17th century. Remarkable success in the construction of water-powered devices in Russia was achieved in the 18th century in the mining industry in the Urals and the Altai. Water-powered devices were an integral part of the metallurgical, lumber, paper, and textile industries.

By the end of the 18th century there were already about 3,000 manufactories in Russia that used the water power of rivers. Water-powered devices that were unique for that time were constructed. For example, in 1765 the hydraulic engineer K. D. Frolov installed a water-driven device on the Korbalikha River (Altai) in which water was brought to the drive wheel by a special canal. The differential that formed between the canal and the river was used in the device to turn a waterwheel which, with the aid of a system of cleverly designed transmissions, drove a group of machines, including an internal transportation system of small wagons that was proposed by Frolov. In 1787, Frolov completed the construction of a diversion four-stage underground water-powered installation on the Zmeevka River that was unparalleled in design, scale, and level of technical execution. The most powerful waterwheels, with a diameter of 9.5 m and a width of 7.5 m, were installed in Russia at the end of the 18th century on the Narova River for the Krengol’m Manufactory. With a head of 5 m, they developed up to 500 hp.

With the advent of the steam engine, primitive water-powered devices began to lose their significance. In order to compete with the steam engine it was necessary to have engines that were more advanced than the cumbersome and comparatively low-powered waterwheels. In the first half of the 19th century the hydroturbine was invented, thus opening up new perspectives for water power. With the invention of the electrical machine and the means of transmitting electricity over considerable distances, water power took on new meaning as a trend in power engineering; the exploitation of water power by transforming it into electrical energy at hydroelectric power plants began.

In tsarist Russia by 1913 there were about 50,000 water-powered installations with a total capacity of about 1 million hp; about 17,000 of them were equipped with hydroturbines. The total annual output of all hydroelectric power plants did not exceed 35 million kilowatt-hours (kW-hr) at an installed capacity of about 16 megawatts (MW).

The extreme backwardness of tsarist Russia in the development of water power is shown by the fact that in 1913 the total capacity of operating hydroelectric power plants in other countries had reached 12,000 MW, and such large electric power plants as the Adams plant at Niagara Falls (USA), with a capacity of 37 MW, had been built. Only after the Great October Socialist Revolution did extensive work begin on the exploitation of the water-power resources of the country. On June 13, 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars adopted a resolution on construction of the Volkhov Hydroelectric Power Plant, with a capacity of 58 MW—the forerunner of Soviet power engineering. In 1920, on the instructions of V. I. Lenin and with his direct participation, the GOELRO (State Commission on the Electrification of Russia) plan was drawn up. It provided for the construction of ten hydroelectric power plants with a total installed capacity of 640 MW. In 1927 work was begun on the construction of the largest hydroelectric power plant in Europe at that time —the Dnieper Hydroelectric Power Plant, with a capacity of 560 MW. With the opening of this plant in 1932, the USSR reached the level of the most developed countries of the world in terms of hydroelectric power plant construction. In the period from 1917 to 1970 the Soviet Union became one of the leading countries in the field of hydraulic power engineering; in installed capacity of hydroelectric power plants in 1970, the USSR was second only to the USA. However, in terms of hydroelectric resources the Soviet Union considerably surpasses all countries of the world. The hydroelectric potential of the large and medium rivers of the USSR is 3.338 trillion kW-hr, of which 588 billion kW-hr (or 17.6 percent) is on rivers of the European part of the USSR and the Caucasus, and 2.75 trillion kW-hr (or 82.4 percent) is in Asia.

The economic potential of Soviet water-power resources in 1965 was set at 1.095 trillion kW-hr of average annual output (see Table 1).

Hydroelectric resources are extremely important to the national economy; for many years hydroelectric power plants were the only possible source of electrical energy for many parts of the country. Even in the 1970’s, with the discovery of tremendous fuel resources and the creation of unified power systems, the significance of water power has not been lost. In many power systems hydroelectric power plants are the basis of power supply and carry almost the entire main load. For example, in the Kola Power System the annual number of hours of utilization of hydroelectric power plant capacity exceeds 5,000, but the figure for steam power plants is less than 2,000. In the unified power system of Central Siberia, the number of hours of utilization of hydroelectric and thermal power plant capacity is almost equal (4,200 and 4,600 per year). In the unified power system of the European part of the country, the number of hours of utilization of hydroelectric power plant capacity is about 3,000.

An important feature of water power resources is that they

Table 1. Degree of development of water-power resources in various countries
 Economic potential of water-power resources (billion KW-hr)Year of estimatePower produced at hydroelectic power plants in 1969 (billion KW-hr)Degree of use of economical potential of water-power resources(percent)

are always renewable and do not require further capital investments. The electricity generated at hydroelectric power plants is, on the average, almost four times cheaper than that produced at steam power plants. Therefore special attention is given to the use of water power resources in locating electricity-consuming production processes. The lack of a need for fuel and the simpler technology for generating electricity reduce expenditures of labor per unit of hydroelectric power plant capacity almost to one-tenth of those for thermal power plants (taking into account the extraction and transportation of the fuel). The high labor productivity at hydroelectric power plants is a basic economic feature and is very important in solving problems of building power projects in sparsely inhabited regions, particularly in remote regions of the North.

Hydroelectric power plants are flexible installations that have an advantage over steam-turbine power plants with regard to frequency regulation and covering peak loads, to switching capacity during the nighttime periods of decreased load, and in the system’s emergency reserve capacity. This is especially important for the power system of the European part of the USSR, where electricity consumption over a 24-hour period is very uneven.

Tremendous water-power reserves are concentrated in Eastern Siberia, on the Enisei, Angara, and Nizhniaia Tunguska rivers, where natural conditions make it possible to produce large amounts of particularly cheap electric power at gigantic hydroelectric power plants, with capacities of 4,000-6,000 MW each. Electricity-consuming industry is being developed on the basis of this cheap electric power. Water power has helped to develop the productive forces of the northern regions of Eastern Siberia. It accounts for about 19 percent of the capacity of all generating plants and about 16 percent of the electrical energy generated in the country as a whole (see Table 2).

At all stages of the economic development of the USSR, hydraulic power engineering has had great importance in supplying electricity to developing industry. In a number of areas of the country water power was the main power base for developing the economy (Murmansk Oblast, Karelia, Transcaucasia, and certain regions of Middle Asia). In many instances it was the leading factor in the complex utilization of water resources. Major hydraulic-engineering projects were essentially the first link in carrying out large irrigation schemes. The hydroelectric power plants that have been built or are under construction have created the prerequisites for expanding the irrigation system over vast areas.

Hydraulic-engineering construction on the Volga, Kama, Don, Dnieper, and Svir’ rivers has brought about their transformation into main waterways of the European part of the country and has made it possible to raise the water level in

Table 2. Role of hydraulic power engineering in the electric power engineering of the USSR
Capacity of hydroelectric power plants (MW)...............16891281,5873,21814,78122,24431,300
Share of hydroelectric power plants in total power-plant capacity of country (percent)...............
Energy produced by hydroelectric power plants (billion kW-hr)...............0.0350.050.5855.1112.6950.981.4123.3
Share of hydroelectric power plants in electric-power production of country (percent)...............

these rivers and to create a single navigation system linking the Caspian, Black, Azov, Baltic, and White seas.

The world’s largest hydroelectric power plants have been built or are under construction (1970) in the USSR: the Saian-Shusha and Krasnoiarsk on the Enisei River, the Bratsk Fiftieth Anniversary of Great October and the Ust’Ilimsk on the Angara, the Nurek on the Vakhsh River, and the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU and the V.I. Lenin on the Volga River.

The tremendous scale of hydraulic engineering work in the USSR became possible thanks to a high level of hydraulic engineering, planning, and construction. Everything that has been built and planned in the field of water power and hydraulic engineering has been done by Soviet efforts, without bringing in foreign firms. The Soviet Union was the first in the world to begin building major hydroelectric projects on soft foundations. New kinds of dams, which are extremely high—including some of the highest in the world—have been built in the USSR: the Inguri (271 m high) and Chirkei (230 m) arch dams, the Saian (236 m) and Toktogul (215 m) gravity-arch dams, the Nurek boulder and gravel dam (310 m), and the Mamakan, Viliui, and Khantai dams in permafrost areas. In the 1970’s construction continued on large hydroelectric projects with high dams in highly seismic regions (the Toktogul dam in a 9-point region, and a number of others). Much that is new has been introduced in the planning of dams on rivers in the plains.

New types of hydraulic turbine equipment have been adopted: hydraulic units of 225 MW capacity each have been installed at the Bratsk Fiftieth Anniversary of Great October Plant, and units of 508 MW capacity each have been installed at the Krasnoiarsk Plant. Capsule horizontal hydraulic power units have been put into operation at the Kiev and Kanev hydroelectric plants. The first tidal power plant (the Kislaia Guba Plant) has been built in the USSR. Soviet experience in hydraulic engineering construction is on the level of world achievements.


Plan elektrifikatsii RSFSR: Doklad VIII s”ezdu Sovetov Gosudarstvennoi komissii po elektrifikatsii Rossii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1955.
Zolotarev, T. L. Gidroenergetika. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Nesteruk, F. Ia. Razvitie gidroenergetiki SSSR. Moscow, 1963.
Energeticheskie resursy SSSR [vol. 2]: Gidroenergeticheskie resursy. Moscow, 1967.
Elektrifikatsiia SSSR. Edited by P. S. Neporozhnyi. Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The goal of the paper is compilation of a brief scientific and technical review on the current state and prospects of development in the world of hydraulic power engineering.
To begin with, we point out that hydraulic power engineering is based on HPPs--power plants which use the potential and kinetic energy of water masses as a stable source of energy [2].