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Hydroelectric Production Managers

History

Water power has been used since early times. The ancient Chinese, Greeks, and Romans used water-powered mills for tasks such as grinding wheat and sawing wood. Later cultures used water to power manufacturing plants and textile mills. An early turbine was created in the mid-1700s and engineer James Francis improved on its design to create his Francis Turbine in 1849. This type of turbine is still used today.

The late 1800s saw the development and growth of hydropower plants. The first hydropower plant began operating in 1882 on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. Within four years there were 45 water-powered electric plants in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The first hydroelectric plant opened in the western United States, in San Bernardino, California, in 1887.

By the early 1900s, the federal government stepped in to take a more active role in waterways management and use and water-power generation. It established the Bureau of Reclamation in 1902, to help build and manage dams, power plants, and canals to encourage economic development in the western United States. Today, it is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States. The Federal Water Power Act was enacted in 1920, to encourage the development of hydroelectric projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Construction began on the Hoover Dam in 1931, taking six years to complete and a total of more than 20,000 workers. The dam continues to operate today. The Tennessee Valley Authority was established in 1933. Its main goal was to construct dams to generate, sell, and distribute electrical power in order to improve the economic climate in the Tennessee River Valley. In 1940, hydropower provided 40 percent of electrical generation in the United States.

The hydropower industry continues to be a key player in renewable energy, despite calls by environmentalists to dismantle dams in order to protect endangered and threatened species, and for other reasons. Scientists and researchers today are also studying the use of tidal energy, ocean thermal energy conversion, and wave energy to generate power. Hydropower is the largest and least expensive type of renewable energy in the United States. In 2016, hydropower comprised nearly 7 percent of the total utility-scale electricity generated in the U.S., and accounted for 44 percent of the total utility-scale electricity generated from all renewable energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

The profession of hydroelectric production managers has evolved over the past few decades in keeping with the introduction of computerized management systems and various industrial software programs. Production managers with strong technology skills and up-to-date mechanical and electrical knowledge will continue to find employment in the hydroelectric power industry. 

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