Although hydroelectric power represents a relatively small portion of the world's energy resources, it is still an important commodity with great potential. To harness hydropower, civil engineers must design dams that convert the kinetic energy of water into electricity.
The fundamentals of general-use dams are discussed on the home page of the US Society on Dams (1
). Besides providing brief background information, there are a few examples of the benefits of dams to society. For a much more technical perspective, check out the Hydropower Program of the US Department of Energy (2
). This site examines (among other things) research and development and turbine systems used in hydropower operations. There are several reports available for download, many of which deal with improved technology that minimizes environmental hazards. A good place for grade school students to learn about dams is at National Geographic's Geoguide Web site (3
). On the main page, the user can learn about different stages of development in dam construction. A section for classroom and family activities suggests many fun, educational projects that are suitable for kindergarten through high school. The Hydroelectric Design Center (see #4 above for URL) is part of the Army Corps of Engineers. The center's home page has a lot of information about hydropower projects with which it is involved, as well as descriptions of processes and components of a hydropower plant. Possibly the most famous dam in North America is the Hoover Dam (5
). History, articles, functional descriptions, pictures, and other media are on the Hoover Dam Web site. A sharp contrast to the glory of the Hoover Dam is the Three Gorges Dam project in China (6
). If it is completed, it will be the biggest dam on Earth; however, environmental concerns plague the project with controversy. This Web site outlines the enormous scale of the project and explains the possible benefits and disastrous consequences that may result. The Three Gorges Dam is the subject of a great activity for middle school students at DiscoverySchool.com (7
). The activity is set up as a detailed lesson plan that lets teachers introduce the problems and benefits of the dam; additionally, basic engineering concepts are discussed. Hydropower could mean more than just electricity for the Lao People's Democratic Republic, a small country in Indochina where poverty is widespread. The Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric project (8
) could bring substantial revenues from exported electricity.