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This Drone Visited The World’s No. 1 Hydropower Plant. Here’s What It Found.

The American Society of Civil Engineers calls Brazil’s Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The massive structure holds a row of 20 giant turbines, half of them manufactured by GE Renewable Energy. In 2008, they generated 94,684 megawatts, then the largest amount of power ever from a single dam. Itaipu alone supplies Brazil with a quarter of its power, and Paraguay with 90 percent of its electricity needs.

The Brazilian dam was eclipsed as the world’s most productive hydropower plant by China’s Three Gorges Dam in 2014, when the South American country faced severe drought. But it took the title back in 2015, according to its operator, Itaipu Binacional.

In June, GE sent a team of filmmakers equipped with a drone to the dam to take a close look at the huge wall of steel, concrete and technology. The footage was part of the company’s Drone Week 2016, which beamed back rarely seen footage of the machines that will be powering the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. That video now lives on GE’s Facebook page. But before you go there, take a close look at some of the photos the drone captured at Itaipu as well.


Top image: A GE drone flying above the picturesque Iguazu Falls, located just a few miles from the Itaipu Dam on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Above: A section of the dam’s massive wall, which is 643 feet high (196 meters) and made from 30.5 million metric tons of concrete. Images credit: GE


This collonade of gigantic white steel tubes feeds water into Itaipu Dam’s 20 water turbines. The turbines can generate 14,000 megawatts, or as much as 10 nuclear power plants. Itaipu supplies a quarter of Brazil’s electricity and 90 percent of Paraguay’s. Image credit: GE


GE Renewable Power supplied 10 Francis turbines for the dam, which was completed in 1982. Five of them can generate 750 megawatts each and the rest 740 megawatts each. Image credit: GE


A worker is finishing the blades of a Francis turbine. American engineer James Francis developed the design in 1848, but each turbine wheel is a bespoke work of art. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy


A 3D image of a pair of Francis turbines (in the middle). The turbines produce electricity by spinning generators at the top. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy


A close-up of Itaipu’s concrete dam. The water reservoir behind it stretches for 100 miles (160 kilometers) and holds 29 billion cubic meters of water (7,600 billion gallons). Image credit: GE


The Itaipu Dam stretches for 5 miles (7.9 kilometres.) It’s more than four times longer than Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the home city of GE Renewable Energy. Image credit: Getty Images


The concrete wall is hiding a cavernous turbine hall. It could accommodate a series of soccer fields, Image credit: GE


The hydropower plant’s high-tech control center. Image credit: GE

Lindhal 2

The Itaipu Dam is not the only case of extreme engineering powered by GE hydro technology. GE water turbines are also working on top of the Swiss Alps at the Linthal variable pumped storage station. The power station is essentially a giant battery the size of a nuclear power plant. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy

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