LOCKHART — How water is used to generate electricity was the subject of a field trip to the Lockhart Power hydroelectric plant Tuesday morning by the students and teachers of this week’s science summer camp at Sims Middle School.
The Union County School District is holding its Gifted and Talented Young Scientists Summer Camp from 8 a.m.-noon each morning this week through Thursday. The students enrolled in the camp are in grades three through seven in the district’s elementary and middle schools and all are in the Gifted and Talented program.
The goal of the camp is to help students understand the different sources of energy and how they are transformed into electricity. One of those sources is hydroelectric power and how that is transformed into electricity that lights thousands of homes in Union County and beyond was the subject of Tuesday’s field trip to the Lockhart Power hydroelectric plant.
Students were divided into two groups with third- and fourth-graders in one group and fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders in the other. Each group was then taken separately to the old Lockhart Power offices attached to the hydroelectric plant where they were shown a presentation on the plant and its operations by Generation Manager Lynn Mitchell.
In his presentation, Mitchell explained that the plant uses water channeled through the Lockhart Canal from the Broad River to generate the electricity it creates. Mitchell said this happens when the water, as it flows through the turbines, hits their stainless steel blades causing them to turn. He said as the blades turn in the turbine the generator above the turbine turns as well.
Inside each generator is an electromagnet encircled by coils of copper wire. Mitchell said that when the turbine’s blades turn, this causes the electromagnet to rotate inside the copper wire. He said this creates a flow of electrons which in turn creates the electricity the plant generates.
Mitchell said that the water that flows into the turbines drops from a height of 50 feet bringing with it “a lot of energy.” He said the greater the height the water falls from the greater the amount of energy it brings to the turbines. Mitchell pointed out that the ability of the plant to generate power is dependant upon the flow of water in the river which is in turn dependant on the amount of rain. He said the more rain there is the greater the flow of water in the river which in turn means more power for the generation of electricity.
“It’s all dependant on the rain,” Mitchell said. “Water in the river comes from rain.”
When asked how much water the plant uses, Mitchell said at full capacity it uses 4,500 cubic feet per second. Mithell said a cubic foot is equal to 7.48 gallons or the amount of liquid contained in 7 1/2 milk jugs. He said this means that when all turbines are going there are 33,600 gallons of water going through the system each second.
The students then asked how much power the plant could generate and Mitchell said 16.5 megawatts. He explained that a megawatt is one million watts of electricity.
Mitchell said the 16.5 megawatts generated by the plant is enough to provide electricity to approximately 11,000 homes. He further illustrated this by pointing out that most homes use 40 watt light bulbs in their lamps and other light fixtures. This means that the 16.5 megawatts generated by the plant is enough to power approximately 412,000 light bulbs.
In addition, Mitchell pointed out that the power generated by the plant is green, that is environmentally-friendly. He said that the stainless steel blades the water turns as it flows through the turbines do not pollute the water which then flows back into the river.
“This is completely clean energy,” Mitchell said.
After the presentation, each group of students was then divided into smaller groups and taken by Lockhart personnel on a tour of the plant. During the tours, the students were shown where the water flows into the plant (the forebay) and where it flows out (the tailrace); the control room; and, of course, the turbines themselves as the water spun them around, generating the electricity that continues to flow out of the facility and into the homes that get their electricity, either directly or indirectly, from Lockhart Power.
Each group took its turn in the presenations and tours. While they were waiting their turn or after they’d completed the tour, the students made bracelets out of solar beads. Once they had the bracelets made, the students would put the palm of their hand over the beads and the beads would change color.
Director of Special Services Gifted & Talented Camille Robinson said the students enjoyed their visit and were fascinated to learn about how water can be used to generate electricity.
“They enjoyed it, they were really impressed that we have something like that locally,” Robinson said. “They were very interested in how the water would assist in generating power.”
The summer camp continues today at Sims where the students will, using notes they took during the visit to Lockhart Power, do digital presentations on what they learned at Lockhart Power.
On Monday, the students built solar-powered cars which will also be the subject of today’s digital presentations.
The cars will also be part of Thursday’s Parents Expo at Sims which concludes the science camp. In addition to doing a group presentation on what they’ve learned at the camp, the students will race the cars they built Monday in a Solar Derby.
If the weather does not permit the Solar Derby to be held, Robinson said an alternative activity will take place.