The Hoover Battery

Could a national landmark represent a changing of the guard in power supply?

In many ways, the Hoover Damn represents an epoch antithetical to the current era of renewable energy.

Constructed during a five year period from 1931-36, during the Great Depression, it stands as one of the most monumental (and costly) public works projects in American history. While it showcases the fruits of combined manpower, manufacturing, and hard labor, it also harnesses natural resources, and is home to the largest reservoir in the world. Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, spanning the Arizona-Nevada state line, are located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River about 35 miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a concrete thick-arch structure, 726.4 feet high and 1,244 feet long. The dam contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete; total concrete in the dam and appurtenant works is 4.4 million cubic yards.

Now, the manmade behemoth could represent a paradoxical changing of the guard. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which was actually one of the original operators of the dam at its inception, has announced a plan to outfit it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. Placed downstream from Lake Mead, the pump station’s function would be to help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, “sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand,” the New York Times reported July 24.

When it was originally built, the Hoover Dam was the largest concrete structure in the world, involving thousand of workers in construction as part of a solution to the labor shortage during the Depression. Named after 31st President Herbert Hoover, it weighs 6.6 million tons and stands 700 ft tall. The biggest challenge engineers faced while building the dam was the extreme heat. Operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and commissioned from 1936-1960, the hydraulic head of the dam stands at 590 feet. It contains nineteen turbines in all, thirteen of which are 130 MW, with two others at 127 MW, one each of 68.5 and 61.5 MW, and two Pelton-type turbines of 2.4 MW. The dam’s total installed capacity is 2,080 MW, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website. With a capacity factor of 23%, its annual generation is 4.2 TWh.

“Engineers want to turn the dam into a vast reservoir of excess electricity from the solar farms and wind turbines that represent the power sources of the future,” the Times’ Ivan Penn, Mika Grondahl, David Walter Banks, Josh Haner, and Josh Williams wrote last week in an extensive article.

Billionaires Warren Buffett and Philip Anschutz are involved in the prospective project.

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