10 Innovations in Hydropower

Air-Water-Gravity Generator
Dickson's other invention doesn't exactly resemble this icon of hydropower – the Hoover Dam. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The hydrosphere led Dickson to another invention, the Air-Water-Gravity generator, which he believes is the hydropower plant of the future. The AWG is a large, hollow cylinder filled with air and anchored to the seafloor at varying depths. An electrical generator sits inside the cylinder. To generate power, a valve lets water into the device under great pressure. The flowing water enters a vacuum chamber and forces a piston to climb a stator, the stationary part of the generator on which a rotor spins. As the piston moves up the stator, it generates electricity [source: Free Press Release].

When the piston reaches a metal stop at the top of the stator, it releases a valve connected to a hollow snorkel pipe at the base of the cylinder. The pipe opens, allowing air to decompress. That forces the rotor down the stator, once again generating electricity. Water is also pushed out of the cylinder at great force and out the snorkel pipe to the surface of the ocean. The water shoots out of the top of the pipe like a geyser. The release valve then closes, the water intake reopens, and the cycle repeats itself. Depending on its size and the depth on which it is placed in the ocean, the AWG can produce up to a half a gigawatt of continuous power [sources: Free Press Release, Beyond Fossil Fuels]. The device hadn't been prototyped or patented at the time of publication.