A to Z of Innovations at Expos: Hydroelectricity

A to Z of Innovations at Expos: Hydroelectricity

Marking the centenary of the French Revolution and centred around the monumental Eiffel Tower, World Expo 1889 in Paris was a hotbed of ambitious ideas. One of these, though it received little attention at the time, was the concept of hydroelectricity, presented by French engineer Aristide Bergès.

Dubbed by Bergès as Houille Blanche or ‘White Coal’ for its capacity to generate energy, the concept displayed at Expo 1889 was based on Bergès’ own paper mill in the French Alps. Bergès realised that water generates more power the further it falls, leading him to install turbines to harness the energy from the water coming from the mountains. By attaching a Gramme dynamo, the turbines created enough power for the paper mill, with extra capacity for the community.

The turbine on display at Expo 1889 served as an early inspiration to the industrial development of hydroelectricity, sparking industrial growth in the Alpine region and the wider adoption of hydro-mechanical techniques. Initially developed for its utility, hydroelectricity today represents around 70% of the global production of renewable energy.

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