June 7, 2019
June 7, 2019


For centuries water has been used not only as a source of sustenance for humans across the world, but as a source of power for countless civilizations. More than 2,000 years ago, people set up waterwheels for the purpose of grinding flour. Since then, waterwheels have played an essential role in generating electricity, powering textile mills, keeping manufacturing plants running and lighting the streets of cities.

City street lamps in and around Niagara Falls began being powered by hydropower as far back as 1881, according to Energy.gov. In 1907, hydropower was being used to provide 15 percent of the electrical power generation in the U.S. and 25 percent by 1920.

Today an estimated six to eight percent of the electricity in the United States comes from some type of hydroelectric source. While much of that electricity comes from hydroelectric dams, the waterwheel is where hydro power officially got its start.

Different Types of Water Wheels

According to a Penn State essay, the horizontal, the undershot vertical and the overshot vertical used to be the three main types of water wheels. A hybrid of the vertical undershot and overshot was later developed, the breastshot, to allow for flowing water to power the wheel from underneath, while falling water could power it from mid-height. With the flow of water came the ability to capture that motion and turn it into energy.

The problem is, today’s hydroelectric power plants require a lot of water to continue operations. Individual waterwheels can cause significant damage to local rivers and streams, as well as the fish and other animals that depend on these areas as a source of food and water. While a waterwheel does have the capacity of generating power from flowing water, it is a zero emission technology that provides, a low-cost source of renewable energy.

Technology to Transition the Waterwheel Into a Zero Emission, Low-Cost, Source of Renewable Energy

HeliosAltas has patented technology, inspired by the waterwheel, which allows for the generation of clean energy at very little cost through the use of untapped resources such as canals, rivers, and tidal flows. This new technology can even be installed at the base of dams to generate energy from current water flows. For each mile of a fast flowing river or canal, up to 5 MW of clean, renewable energy can be generated.

One of the most basic, yet innovative aspects of the Helios PowerBall is the fact that it is environmentally-friendly. Once placed in a flowing river, it will not impede aquatic passage nor will it hit bottom causing the disruption of dirt, mud, rocks or other debris. It is extremely predictable and can tap into existing resources so as to not cause any further damage to the natural environment. Unlike solar and wind farms, which tend to take up a lot of land, the Helios PowerBall allows this unique waterwheel technology to be integrated into existing infrastructures to provide inexpensive, zero emission energy.

Energy.gov: History of Hydropower
PennState: The Three Types of Waterwheels