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Big Becky has broken through
May 13, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Big Becky has broken through.

The tunnel boring machine named "Big Becky" has completed its 10.2km dig.

The largest machine of its kind in the world, it has been digging a tunnel from Queenston to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station (hence "Becky") since 2006.

Once the tunnel has been reinforced with concrete, it will carry water, diverted from the Niagara River to the station to generate enough electricity to power 160,000 homes. This is expected to happen in 2013, although the project has already gone over schedule (by about four years) and over budget (by about half a billion dollars). Reportedly, the $1.6 billion project is the largest clean energy project in the world.

To give you a bit of an idea of perspective, the diameter of the tunnel is supposed to be one-and-a-half times as large as the Chunnel tunnel between England and France.

There's an information video about Becky and the project on the official provincial website.

Video of the event is expected to be posted here in about 20 minutes from the time of this post. So far most of the usual news sources haven't got their official video up yet, but that's likely to happen in the next little while as well.

Until then here's Rick Mercer's visit to Big Becky.
posted by sardonyx (58 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
1.6 terrawatt hours. Say 1.6 terrawatt hours. We have SI units for a reason.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:00 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


[Fixed the formatting error. Carry on.]
posted by cortex at 12:00 PM on May 13, 2011



posted by joost de vries at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


5.8 petajoules, anyone?
posted by gubo at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


whoaaaa, big betty (bam-a-lam)
posted by schmod at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


er. big becky. carry on.
posted by schmod at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2011


1.6 terrawatt hours. Say 1.6 terrawatt hours. We have SI units for a reason.

Yeah, and one of them is dimensional analysis. 1.6 terawatt hours is a measure of energy, not power. A watt measures power, and obviously the plant is not putting out 1.6 terawatts.

Also an hour is not an SI unit.
posted by delmoi at 12:11 PM on May 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


1.6 terrawatt hours. Say 1.6 terrawatt hours. We have SI units for a reason.

Terawatt. Terra is what you live on. Tera is 10^12.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


All that water they'll be taking through that new tunnel is currently used by the plant on the other side of the river because the plants are allowed to take more water than the Canadian side can currently take. The 2 plants can take about half(ish) the water from above the falls (As defined in the Boundary Waters Treaty). The treaty basically keeps the falls from being drained by the plants. Sometimes people will get stuck in the river in various places they shouldn't go because the river has huge swings below the falls depending on how much water the plants are sucking up. They can take more at night, and more in the winter when not so many tourists are around. It's all kinda cool (well, if hydro electricity is your thing).
posted by Blake at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2011


How many flux capacitors will it be able to power? We have BTTF units for a reason.
posted by kmz at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's "Black Betty", schmod. But be that as it may, the Niagara peninsula is one of the great places on earth, where the grind of Big Betty joined with the harmonic vibrations of the universe to give me some of the most enjoyable hours of my life. From Queenston to NOTL to Niagara Falls themselves, it's a land that hums with peace.
posted by Faze at 12:17 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


1.6 terawatt hours is actually 5.76 * 1016 joules or 57.6 petajoules. (and, according to wolfram alpha that's actually 33% of the energy that hits the earth every day from the sun.)
posted by delmoi at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2011


So 182MW of additional capacity on top of the 1926MW currently?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2011


Does anyone remember the conversion factor between meganitpicks and snarks? Also, how many snarks/post in a decimodban?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


>>So 182MW of additional capacity on top of the 1926MW currently?

In theory, yes, in reality, meh. There's a huge difference between REAL capacity of a plant and what a "cap test" reports. I think capacity tests are commonly run a couple times a year. Basically the plants runs balls out for a few hours and says to the ISO (the people that run the grid) "Hey, we can generate X number of megawatts." The plant is then on the hook for some percent of that on the grid. Beck power goes both West into Ontario and East into NY (there's some big ass cables strung across the river). I'm not sure how the grid works in Ontario exactly, but there's the NYISO that sells the power on the "free" market in NY, and the Moses plant is the biggest in NY and typically generates maybe 10% or so of the load on the grid at any point.

But yeah, Beck will get more water so they can push the generators harder and sell more power to pay for all of Becky's hard work.
posted by Blake at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating. I was at Niagara Falls last year and had no idea! All the touristy crap obscures the neat stuff.
posted by Calzephyr at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2011


Pre 9/11 you could go into the Moses plant, I think maybe you still can get into Beck? At least further in than you can on the American side.
posted by Blake at 12:32 PM on May 13, 2011


boring
posted by nathancaswell at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


the Niagara peninsula is one of the great places on earth. . . it's a land that hums with peace.

Dig that, friends.

Dig that.
posted by Herodios at 12:37 PM on May 13, 2011


The CNW video is up but it's mainly McGuinty at a podium.

CTV has some video up. The breakthrough isn't at all spectacular but I wanted to offer it for those who are interested. (The video plays after an annoying commercial is shown.)
posted by sardonyx at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2011


1.6 terawatt hours is actually 5.76 * 1016 joules or 57.6 petajoules. (and, according to wolfram alpha that's actually 33% of the energy that hits the earth every day from the sun.)

Looks like you missed a decimal place and converted 16 TW h instead, delmoi. The actual conversion (as gubo noted) is 5.76 x 1015 J, aka 5.76 PJ or 1/30 of the total energy hitting the earth from the sun each second.

Maybe this is a troll physics question or I'm just not thinking this all the way through, but what would happen if there were 30 of these running? Actually, globally, I bet there's the equivalent of more. Which would mean that more energy is being generated/consumed, in aggregate, than is being provided to the planet by the sun. Assuming that the sun is for all intents and purposes the Earth's only exterior energy source, wouldn't that mean we're operating at a net loss? Did I overlook something or is this just a boring way of restating the coming non-renewable energy crisis?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ted Gruetzner, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation, called the event a “major milestone."

“This has been really the hardest part of the project,” he said.


Heh, this guy rocks.
posted by brain_drain at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


To pour a little more cold water on the celebration (har): At least one expert is warning that the tunnel will not survive very long in the highly stressed escarpment rock.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:56 PM on May 13, 2011


boring

My dad worked for a university, and he used to like to tell a story about how he was once in the library and stumbled across the library's collection of Boring Quarterly, which was apparently a mining-industry trade journal. To this day, I have no idea if the journal actually existed or if he was just pulling my leg.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Boring, Oregon
posted by Danf at 1:09 PM on May 13, 2011


I think maybe you still can get into Beck?
Yes, although it's possibly the most boring tour in the world, and certainly not worth the money. Like every other Niagara Falls attraction, they take you down an elevator and through a featureless tunnel. At the end of the tunnel you get to stand in a room with some old interpretive displays and a few windows that look out on the turbine hall, where there is a high probability that absolutely nothing is going on (although the mechanics' tricycles are neat to see).

The most exciting thing you can do with Beck as a member of the public is drive past it on the other side of the river. I'd recommend doing that, and then hiking down through the American side of the gorge to the outlet of the original tailrace (s/link) of the Adams Power Stations, which is still running (with treated sewage effluent) even though the stations themselves were demolished and replaced with a sewage treatment plant in the 1970s.
posted by waterunderground at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Drill, baby, drill!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2011


1.6 terrawatt hours. Say 1.6 terrawatt hours. We have SI units for a reason.

Yes, but how many 1.21 jigawatts is that?
posted by inigo2 at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which would mean that more energy is being generated/consumed, in aggregate, than is being provided to the planet by the sun.

1.6TW is the annual output. I think we're okay for the moment.
posted by Behemoth at 1:29 PM on May 13, 2011


Then of course there's Little Becky.
posted by Sailormom at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2011


[Fixed the formatting error. Carry on.]

Oh, now that spoils it. What better front page info for a post about a tunnel than a simple, cryptic, minimal [more inside]?
posted by philip-random at 1:39 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Big Becky has broken through.

Unfortunately, by this point, the Mole Man was driving. He emerged shouting "Destroy the surface dwellers, my monsters!" while the power plant was sucked into the Earth, having been undermined by Giganto.
posted by Zed at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


1.6TW hr is the annual output.
ftfy.

It's not so hard really:
a Watt-hour is a unit of energy. Think of it like a volume of fuel from the refinery. Your monthly electricity consumption is measured in W-hr. This tunnel will allow Sir Adam Beck GS to produce an additional 1.6 Trillion W-hr of "fuel" over the course of a year.

a Watt is a unit of power, equivalent to the horsepower rating of your car engine. Generating Stations usually have "nameplate capacities" measured in Watts, though they won't necessarily be producing that much at all times (just as your engine won't be running flat out all of the time).

The confusion here is that the tunnel won't actually increase the capacity of Sir Adam Beck (they aren't installing any new turbines afaik). Instead, it will allow them to run with the pedal down further, more of the time (aka, a higher "capacity factor").
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


(to belabor the analogy, 1 Watt of capacity gives you the ability to generate 1 Watt-hour of fuel every hour, running flat out)
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:58 PM on May 13, 2011


Maybe this is a troll physics question or I'm just not thinking this all the way through, but what would happen if there were 30 of these running? Actually, globally, I bet there's the equivalent of more. Which would mean that more energy is being generated/consumed, in aggregate
Well, the point I was trying to make is that "1.6 terawatt hours" is a nonsense way of measuring a power plant. It's like talking about how fast a car can go by saying it can "go 500 miles".

If you're wondering about how much energy the entire world uses, according to wikipedia:
In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018J=132,000 TWh). This is equivalent to an average annual power consumption rate of 15 terawatts (1.504×1013 W)
Now exajoules is a measure of energy and terawatts are a measure of power To get power you divide the amount of energy over the amount of time. In this case one year, and you get 15 terawatts Since we know there are 8,760 hours in a year that means we have 15*8,760 = 131,400 terawatt hours, which gets us back to about the TWh figure used in the wikipedia article.

Anyway, global energy use is about only about 15 TW, or just 0.0086% of global sunlight energy, according to Wolfram Alpha.
posted by delmoi at 2:04 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


How many parsecs did it take to drill that far?
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


She'll do the Niagara run in less than 190MW, the fastest TBM in the quatrant.
posted by bonehead at 2:39 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bagger 288 is unimpressed.
posted by Decani at 2:45 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gruetzner said Becky will break through the wall of a deep pit around 11:30 a.m. Friday. Workers will have a traditional gathering underground to celebrate a job well done and pay tribute to Saint Barbara, the patron saint of mining.

Dark celebrations held in the eldritch bowels of the earth... I'm for it. St. Barbara is the anglicanized pronunciation of Shudde-M'ell.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:00 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Johnny Assay, I couldn't find Boring Quarterly, but I did find a journal called Boring Records, published by the Victoria Department of Mines.
posted by gyusan at 3:01 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


or 1/30 of the total energy hitting the earth from the sun each second.

Yes, there is something wrong with this calculation considering that the only source of energy which lifted the water from the ocean to the lake via rainfall is the evaporation energy powered by the sun.

So for this statement to be true, this one tunnel would be harnessing at least 1/30 of the flowing water on Earth, which is patently absurd, especially considering all the solar energy which does not cause evaporation of water.
posted by Rumple at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2011


Bagger 288
posted by delmoi at 3:12 PM on May 13, 2011


Reportedly, the $1.6 billion project is the largest clean energy project in the world.

That is a rather peculiar claim. If we assume that hydro is "clean" then there are dozens of other hydro generation facilities which vastly outproduce this.

Or does "largest" mean "in kilometers" rather than "in watts"? Even there, if you measure the size of the lakes behind some of the larger hydro projects, 10 kilometers doesn't rate.

By any measure I can think of, this is surpassed by the Three Gorges Dam, which has a peak generation capacity of 18 gigawatts, and which ultimately flooded a thousand square kilometers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:33 PM on May 13, 2011


$1.6 billion and it will provide electricity for 10,000 homes. That's $10,000/home for the tunnel alone. Is this a good deal? I genuinely don't know the answer, do any MeFites?
posted by Daddy-O at 3:35 PM on May 13, 2011


Is this a good deal? I genuinely don't know the answer, do any MeFites?

It sounds high, but about right for these days. There were political reasons for undertaking the project (having to do with international water rights), and it wasn't supposed to cost so much (it never is).

For reference, the capital cost of the Samsung Wind and Solar power deal in Ontario is 6.6 billion for 2 500 MW. Assuming a capacity factor of 25%, the Samsung turbines will generate 625 MW on average, or 5.2 teraWatt*hours over the course of a year, enough for about 520 000 homes. That comes out to about $13 000 per home, which is about the same as the tunnel project.

Also compare this to the proposed cost of the Darlington B nuclear plant. 2 400 MW of capacity at about 90% capacity factor gives about 19 teraWatt*hours / year, or enough for about 1.9 million homes. That comes out to about $13 700 per home, which again is competitive. That price was *way higher* then expected however and led to the (temporary?) cancellation of the project.

These are only capital costs mind you. The Samsung turbines will sell power at a guaranteed price three times the current market rate for electricity, plus we will have to pay for expensive gas peaking power to cover the times when the wind doesn't blow. By comparison, this tunnel (and presumably Darlington B) will deliver electricity at market rates, so the project looks a lot more attractive, comparatively.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:11 PM on May 13, 2011


>I think maybe you still can get into Beck?

>Yes, although it's possibly the most boring tour in the world, and certainly not worth the money.


Seconded. Although I did it for free at a Doors Open thing. First a dullsville video presentation, then down an elevator, then down a long, long corridor where the only thing of interest is a tricycle the workers use to ride around the plant, and then finally to an observation room, where you get to observe the floor under which the turbines are.

An hour long tour to look at a linoleum floor. A box factory it ain't.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:35 PM on May 13, 2011


So for this statement to be true, this one tunnel would be harnessing at least 1/30 of the flowing water on Earth, which is patently absurd, especially considering all the solar energy which does not cause evaporation of water.

Not absurd. It takes an hour to produce 1/30 the energy the earth receives in a second. I have no doubt Niagra has at least 1/108000 the water flowing on earth. (It might be 1/216000, not sure how the day/night thing works in this calculation.)
posted by gjc at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2011


Not absurd. It takes an hour to produce 1/30 the energy the earth receives in a second.

...What? What is "it" in that sentence refer to? Are you assuming that this plant puts out 1.6 terawatts? Because that would, in fact, be absurd.

The entire power generation of the earth is 15 terawatts. The amount of sunlight hitting the earth per second is 181 petawatts, according to wolfram alpha. So human electrical generation is 12120 of the total solar energy.

That means it would take 12,120 seconds, or 3 hours and 22 minutes for all the world's power generation to output the equivalent 1 second of sunlight.
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on May 13, 2011


then finally to an observation room, where you get to observe the floor under which the turbines are.

Yeah, I was going to mention that part, but got bogged down trying to figure out when exactly they installed that extra, ridiculous floor, and promptly forgot to include anything about it. There are no turbines to look at. It's the only turbine hall 'tour' in the world where you don't actually get to see one --- a far cry from the days when visiting Tesla's wondrous creations was almost as prestigious as the chance to view the Falls itself.
posted by waterunderground at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2011


Ted Gruetzner, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation, called the event a “major milestone."

“This has been really the hardest part of the project,” he said.

Heh, this guy rocks.
- posted by brain_drain at 3:51 PM

You missed one:

"I want to thank everyone who has put their shoulder to the wheel on this project," McGuinty said Friday morning.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:40 PM on May 13, 2011


That's it. From now on, the use of the absurd "watt hour" unit is officially banned. If you want to talk about energy, use Joules.
posted by atrazine at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sir Adam Beck said (wiki): "Power at Cost" and in Latin, "dona naturae pro populo sunt" ("the gifts of nature are for the public"). He has a nice monument in downtown Toronto.

If you feel cynical about politicians these days, this is an inspiring story. I learned about it from the book by Pierre Berton, Niagara.
posted by ovvl at 7:52 PM on May 13, 2011


Unless I misunderstood something, all that work to add less than 15 percent to the plant's capacity? Wow.
posted by ambient2 at 10:10 PM on May 13, 2011


all that work to add less than 15 percent to the plant's capacity? Wow.

To be fair, that's 15 percent of an enormous number. Sir Adam Beck is one of the largest generating stations in the province (and employs only a few dozen people. Too bad there aren't any more Niagara Falls around - electricity would be cheap!)
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:34 AM on May 14, 2011


I live in Toronto and I had no idea this was happening! I saw what I think were probably the drills for the new Downsview Subway extension being brought in a few months ago and that was pretty nifty and they were nowhere near this big.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2011


1,600,000,000 dollars divided by 160,000 homes is 10,000 dollars per house for initial costs. Is that considered to be a good deal for clean energy?
posted by Brian B. at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2011


1,600,000,000 dollars divided by 160,000 homes is 10,000 dollars per house for initial costs. Is that considered to be a good deal for clean energy?

Well, the problem is probably threefold.

1. If we would otherwise be buying this power at rack rate from New York (who can use the water that OPG could otherwise take under the treaty if OPG has no way to use it for generation), we're better off building more capacity to handle it ourselves. No doubt the economic case was made that the capital expenditure to expand the capacity of the Beck complex is less than what it will cost to buy that power from outside Ontario.

2. The cost (between design, skilled labour, financing, and oversight, plus the TBM itself) of major construction projects like this one is now crazy high in North America, to the extent that you're right, distributed generation looks like a much better deal if we can ever find the promised economies of scale. Right now, I think you're still looking at significant multiples of $10K to take your home off the grid, and you have to replace the stuff more frequently (* although if geofish's dark predictions about the geological future of the tunnel are accurate, maybe not). We could also get into a long discussion about some of the hidden costs and obstacles to wider rollout of distributed generation (ie. REEs, battery manufacture and recycling, etc.). Despite the massive cost of digging the tunnel, once it's there, save the possibility of calamity, it's there, we don't need a massive economic infrastructure of mines, manufacturers, and service techs to support it.

3. At least until Samsung is firmly established as the green energy capital supplier in the province (assuming that that $7B deal doesn't get scuttled in the next year by a change in government), it's still far more politically valuable to funnel buckets of money to construction and engineering companies. Concrete and asphalt, the twin currencies of local and regional politics. For various reasons, spending this kind of money on demand reduction is still not nearly as politically attraction (a mixture of aversion to telling voters they can't have something and the lack of a massive politics-industry nexus supporting energy conservation retrofitters and consultants).
posted by waterunderground at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to add, what I've seen on the installed cost of industrial wind farms is at least $10K/household, and that's simply on a basis of installed capacity (a 1.5MW turbine, for instance), it's not adjusted for the variability of wind generation. Those figures are a few years old though.

Regardless, problem 4 on the list above would have been that planned expansions to Ontario's wind farm network have basically ground to a halt as a result of local opposition and the provincial government's fear that it will cost them the election. A lot easier to throw the money into a tunnel that no one has to look at than to threaten locally cherished landscapes with wind turbines, regardless of what the reality of their impact on the landscape actually is.
posted by waterunderground at 12:27 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


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