In STEM Club, we are immersed in energy resources presently – so a field trip to a hydroelectric dam is the perfect field trip. Shasta Dam, the 2nd largest dam in the country (after Grand Coulee in Washington state) is in our backyard – so it is the perfect field trip.
Shasta Dam is a curved gravity dam across the Sacramento River in the northern part of the U.S. state of California, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley. Like another curved gravity dam (Hoover Dam), it was a continuous pour concrete project, and in its day, ranked as one of the great civil engineering feats of the world. The dam is 602 ft (183 m) high and 3,460 ft (1,055 m) long, with a base width or thickness of 543 ft (165.5 m). The reservoir created behind Shasta Dam is known as Shasta Lake and is a popular recreational boating area.
Hydroelectric power is universally known as one of the cleaned, most efficient and inexpensive ways to produce power. Hydroelectric power is electricity generated using falling water. At Shasta Dam, as water races down pipes (penstocks) towards the power plant, that water is directed at the blades of a water wheel (turbine).
The turbine is coupled to an electric generator by a long shaft. The generator consists of a large, spinning “rotor” and a stationary “stator”. The outer ring of the rotor is made up of a series of electromagnets. The stator is comprised of a series of copper coils. As the rotor spins, its magnetic field induces a current in the stator’s windings thereby generating electricity.
The five generators at the Shasta Dam have recently been upgraded by the Bureau of Reclamation, replacing the turbine portion of each generator. This increases the plant capacity to 710 megawatts, with each unit running at 142 megawatts. Utilizing the latest technology in design, the new turbines are more energy efficient.
Our visit this past week to the dam was not our first. We toured the Shasta Dam facilities when we first moved to California. Even so, we all learned something new and enjoyed the experience. One of the highlights was discovering that since the Shasta Dam is a curved gravity dam, we could hear our echo bounce back and forth when we yelled across the span. Additionally, one our first tour, we were most impressed by the train tunnel – as my son was passionate about trains at that age. He is now more impressed with engineering marvels and as a result, he stayed close to the tour guide the entire time asking many questions.
When we returned home, he created a model of the dam in one of his Minecraft worlds. Proving once again that Minecraft is educational. He is now brainstorming ideas to create a three dimensional model showing how electricity is generated and transmitted to our homes.
If you are interested in touring a dam in your area or simply learning about dams from the comfort of your home – I have created a FREE set of notebooking printables to guide you along on your study. These printables are a small part of my newest mini-unit, Alternative Energy Resources: Hydroelectric Dams, a 13 page ebook available for purchase in my store. In the coming months, I will be releasing a complete curriculum for energy resources.