I spent the end of the afternoon today poking around the operations of a three-quarter megawatt hydroelectric generator with Ethan and Eric and my sister. It’s the oldest operating hydrogenerator in Colorado — the main turbine and generator were manufactured (in gorgeous cast iron, I might add) in 1902. They sit in a little generator shack next to the Uncompahgre river. 30 cubic feet of water per second, generating around seventeen and a half amps at 4,000 volts.
They don’t make equipment like this anymore: floating, oil-filled bearings (which need refilling with oil periodically), painted cast iron casings, heavy, gorgeous, sculpted equipment that will probably run another hundred years if kept in good working order. The newer generators aren’t nearly so interesting — sheet metal and a plastic-coated flywheel give a utilitarian but not at all grand look. The big generator has a turbine about the size of a medium-sized car, and the generator is a pancake-shaped piece about 6 feet tall, with the requisite coils set inside. It spins at about 1200 RPM, meaning that with a three-phase generator, that matches up to producing 60 hertz electricity in relatively good synchronization with the rest of the western US’ energy grid.
I could feel the magnetic field in the room. Leaving gave my muscles a much-needed relax, and my ears as well.