The Surprisingly Useful Side of Niagara Falls
We certainly could talk to death about the beauty and awesomeness of Niagara Falls. Not only is the general environment simply perfect — we love the temperatures in every season — and the city full of activities for any group, but the waters themselves are so powerful and thrilling as to stop visitors in their tracks.
However, not many travelers to the region realize that the rushing water they’re watching is also being used to generate power as well! People have been using Niagara Falls for resources and energy for thousands of years, but in the past centuries we’ve been able to harness its power to fuel our modern lifestyle. Here’s a brief look at how we get energy from the falls, so you can stand in ever-more wonder of this amazing natural feature.
A Brief History of Energy in Niagara
Around the end of the 19th century, Canadians and Americans began looking for energy sources to enhance their quality of life. Power from steam and coal was rapidly increasing in importance as technology was developed that required more muscle than a horse or ox could provide. Humanity had long known about the usefulness of rivers and streams in efforts like grinding grain, and the intense waterworks of the Niagara region seemed a choice place to experiment with hydro power.
In 1893, Canadians installed the first hydroelectricity plant in Niagara Falls to provide energy to a small radius of the surrounding region. The plant pumped only 2,200 kilowatts of energy to the local population and was meant primarily to supply power to an electric railway joining nearby Queenston and Chippawa.
The capacity of hydroelectric plants has since grown and changed, and today both Canada and America boast a sizable amount of energy provided to local communities by the falls. When the current Niagara plant first began pumping in 1961, it was the largest facility of its kind in the Western world, churning out 2.4 million kilowatts of energy every day. For reference, this is enough to power to light 24 million standard light bulbs all at once!
How Hydroelectricity Works
To obtain energy from the rushing water, engineers have devised a brilliant system of channeling the already moving water through energy-catching turbines. To best preserve the ecosystem, water is diverted from the main channel of the river and pushed through channels under the city of Niagara Falls. There, the water (at a speed of about 375,000 gallons per second) forces its way through a series of turbines, somewhat like familiar old-fashioned water wheels, that power generators. That is how we turn the mechanical energy of the falls’ water into electrical energy which we can use and store more efficiently.
What You Can Do During Your Visit
While you’re staying in the more lavish Niagara Falls, Ontario and seeing the sights on the Canadian side, you can easily pop over to the New York side to pay a visit to the Niagara Power Project Visitor’s Center for more information on how hydroelectricity was developed and what the energy is used for today.