Deep within the works of most systems that generate power from the flow of water is an item called the Pelton wheel. Named after Lester Pelton, the man who invented it in the late 1800’s. That original design was a very good one, as it has been subjected to surprisingly little change since that day.
The Water Wheel
A Pelton wheel is not to be mistaken for an ordinary water wheel. The ordinary water wheel is either placed in the water, allowing the water to flow through the “paddles” and turning the wheel, or it is placed below the flow of the water and the water is allowed to fall into the paddles of the wheel, again turning the wheel. The ordinary water wheel is quite inefficient when compared to a Pelton wheel. For the Pelton wheel, water is fed through multiple nozzles pointed directly at the wheel, which fires a jet of water at the wheel cups for maximum efficiency.
Hydro-energy systems using either a Pelton wheel (or an ordinary water wheel) are usually considered turbines. This is because these systems use either the natural turbulence of the water (water wheels) or the manipulated turbulence of the water (Pelton wheel) to generate power.
Pelton wheels come in all sizes. From wheels just inches in diameter that are used in home hydro-power systems to wheels several feet in diameter used in hydro-power generation plants (usually at dams).