Leaving a legacy

As an amateur historian, I enjoy collecting random history facts that I can pull from the recesses of my memory at the perfect moment to insert into any discussion. Recently, hydropower fulfilled my daily quota of historical knowledge.

The benefit to covering an industry with roots more than 100 years deep in mechanical and engineering history is witnessing historic events, moments, and milestones that any journalist is grateful to cover. In this case, I was intrigued when I saw that the Kaplan turbine was conceived 100 years ago on August 7, 1913.

As one of my first questions upon entering the industry was “what is the difference between all these turbines?” I found myself typing Kaplan on a daily basis in my work, which spoke loudly of the large role the technology plays in hydroelectric power generation, an accomplishment that I am sure Viktor Kaplan would be quite proud of.

Viktor Kaplan registered his Kaplan turbine patent, described as an adjustable blade propeller turbine, in August of 1913 in Austria. He first tested his technology with a demonstration unit installed in Podebrady, Czechoslovakia, but faced a lot of issues with heavy cavitation on the unit. While he stopped researching in 1922, Voith kept working on the technology and produced a unit for use in a river the same year. By 1928, Voith had installed four Kaplan turbines at the 120-MW Rheinkraftwerk Ryburg-Schwörstadt plant in Rheinfelden, Switzerland.

To celebrate the technology’s centennial, Viktor Kaplan’s great-grandson Roland Athenstaedt and his sons visited one of Viktor’s workplaces and a hub of early research on the Kaplan unit: Voith in Heidenheim, Germany, says a release by Voith.

“My children are currently looking at forms of renewable energy at school. I therefore thought it would be a good idea to explain hydropower to them and show them the company where their great-great-grandfather had carried out research,” commented Athenstaedt, who took a tour of the Heidenheim facility, including the production department and test and development center. The facility that saw the early tests of the equipment still continues to produce Kaplan turbines today.

To an outsider, this is a symbol of the longstanding benefits and impact of hydropower, not only in regards to the lifespan of the infrastructure, but to the legacy it leaves behind.

I would love to hear any stories of the legacy hydro leaves on past generations. Did a trip to Hoover dam as a child inspire your love for dam safety or engineering? Tell me your hydro legacy below. 

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Bethany Duarte formerly was associate editor of Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide magazines.

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