Hoover Dam Tour 2016

14 Oct 2016 4:00 PM | Anonymous

Our tour group

Looking down stream at Gallery Leve

On October 14th, 2016, the Nevada Chapter hosted a tour of Hoover Dam and its equipment which was attended by 20 members and guests.  Friday afternoon was sunny as we gathered at an onsite auditorium to receive a historical summary and cultural background on the dam and tour before proceeding on our “Behind–the-Scenes” tour.  Although the public dam tour is enjoyable, as working engineers, we were ready for a deeper dive technical tour of the dam. We commissioned energy and hydroelectric professionals, who work daily on the dam’s energy production, to provide us access to non-public areas and information that fed the interest of energy engineers and managers.  This special tour gave our group a new perspective, along with details on the history of energy generation, equipment upgrades and special conditions that influence site operations.

Our group received an abundance of data as evidenced by the photos of equipment that dwarf most physical plant motors, switch gears and transformers. The two-hour tour took the group into the tunnels (where water continuously escapes by seeping from Lake Mead), the gallery where turbines spin to generate electricity and finally onto the riverside platforms where water is released back to Boulder canyon.  A few interesting tidbits about the energy generation at the dam include:

  • Energy generated at this site is for peak use only, base load energy come from other power plants.
  • The generators operate when water is released which is not continuous, nor consistent.  On occasion, the generators operate in reverse, to consume energy and keep the equipment operational when water release/levels are low.
  • The first major equipment upgrade occurred when the dam operations were transferred from private to public agency ownership in the 1980s.  That’s over 50 years before they needed major elements of energy equipment to be replaced.

Director Ed Rafter surveying the transmission lines

A 9 ton turbine (pallet jacks can’t move this beast, they just get stored underneath)

Our group participated in a 30-minute question and answer session with the energy team and we heard their best stories about what can go wrong during normal operations, what might get an employee fired and some “Uh Oh” moments that unfortunately, come with the job.

It dawned on us that this 82-year-old wonder was built with the following challenges (which made us appreciate American quality and modern energy engineering):

Absence of computers – slide rules ruled at the time, and photocopiers were a distant dream.

Bolts larger than your arm were installed and tightened by workers with no formal education.  These bolts and the other equipment are still working at 100%.

Workers labored year round with summer temperatures exceeding 119 degrees – air conditioning would be invented in later years.

This event is a wonderful example of how the Nevada Chapter of the AEE continues to grow with educational meetings, inspired field trips and a dynamic membership base.


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