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17 Aug

Blogs in Motion: A Future Matter (Hydroelectric Power)

Welcome to the fourth entry in our alternative energy series: A Future Matter

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the form of alternative energy that first inspired this whole series: hydroelectric. Last year, in the cold north of Quebec, we first took in the sight of the awe-inspiring Robert Bourassa Dam and our time there drove us to investigate how alternative energy impacts the world. Hydroelectric is one of the more ancient forms of harnessing power, first conceived of by some of the earliest civilizations, such as the ancient Greeks using water wheels for grinding wheat into flour over 2,000 years ago. Since that time, electrical energy generated by flowing water has been harvested in larger quantities and in much larger facilities. Before we get into the potential of hydroelectric power as a long-term energy source, we’ll start with the basics of how it works.

How is hydroelectric energy generated? The process involves the harnessing of the inherent kinetic energy in flowing and falling water. A dam is built in place to raise the water levels of a body of water and to control the now-redirected flow. Hydroelectric dams vary greatly in their size, from “micro-dams” that can provide enough power for a small, local community to giant dams, such as the Hoover Dam, that can provide partial power for entire cities. The redirected water enters the dam’s reservoirs and falls against a series of turbines. The turbines operate in a manner very similar to wind turbines; the falling water hits the turbines and causes them to spin, the kinetic motion generating harvestable energy. The hydroelectric energy is then distributed through transmissions lines from the dam to local homes, businesses etc.

Now that we have a basic understanding of how hydroelectric power is harvested, let’s ask ourselves: What are the potential benefits of supporting global energy demand with hydroelectric power?

One of the biggest benefits of hydroelectric energy is its renewable potential. This energy relies on the motion of water, one of the most abundant resources on Earth, and because it is generated through falling water and spinning turbines, there are little to no fluctuations in the process of providing electricity. The energy produced by hydroelectric plants/dams also does not produce any of the contaminants or greenhouse gases typically associated with fossil fuels, making it a viable “green” option for alternative power. Additionally, hydroelectric plants/dams have lower operating costs and maintenance requirements. Some of the largest hydro dams can require a staff of as little as 50 people to operate and once a dam is in place, there are so few parts that usually require fixing or replacing, it’s seen as very cost effective once the dam is in place.

The impact on local communities near hydroelectric plants can also have some positive side-effects. Due to the non-intermittent nature of hydroelectric power, it offers a more permanent option for stable energy for nearby communities, as opposed to solar or wind which can fluctuate depending on local factors. Also, by creating calmer bodies of water for the dams, opportunities for recreational activities such as fishing, boating or swimming become available to locals.

The Daniel-Johnson Dam in northern Quebec, Canada

No method of generating energy is perfect, so let’s ask ourselves now: What are the drawbacks of increasing our dependence on hydroelectric power?

The most common issue brought up with hydroelectric dams is the potential environmental impact of the damming process and how changing water flows and installation of new power lines and roads impacts the local wildlife and terrain. Construction of hydroelectric dams is no small order, taking up a large area of space and altering water flows. This could potentially disrupt the nearby wildlife, fish in particular. Fish habitats and migration patterns can be greatly impacted by the changing of water levels and/or velocity of running currents. Specialists are still researching the specifics, but there is a strong debate already for the environmental impact of a dam’s existence.

Droughts can also be a major factor to hydro dams, with lower water levels potentially causing a shortage of electrical production, which could be a particular annoyance if the dam services a local community. Also, while the day-to-day operating costs of hydro dams is reportedly low, the initial costs to build the dam can be quite high and zoning/construction issues can quickly become a factor. However the low costs of maintenance and staffing afterwards are often see as an appropriate balance, so it’s worth taking both sides into account.

What are your thoughts on the use of hydroelectric energy? Should we increase or decrease our dependence on the power of hydroelectric dams? How far do the environmental considerations go against the considerations of stable, long-term energy? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media channels. We hope you've found these articles informative and we’ll have our final entry on geothermal power up soon!

29 Dec

Trailer Blocks: Year in Review 2014

It’s the end of 2014!

We’re just a few days away from New Year’s Eve and we’re reflecting on all that Trailer Blocks has done these last 12 months. It’s been a very busy second year for us, as we introduced a range of new products and new initiatives. So before it’s time to commence the countdown, we’d like to reflect on the past year with you and re-examine some highlights from Trailer Blocks this past year.

The operation of an online business is equal parts challenge and reward. Innovative and traditional methods of running a company can often clash, then meld together in new and unexpected ways. Keeping both methods in mind, we took major steps towards our goal of offering a wide range of trailer performance accessories. We tested and added pressed steel tie plates as a kit option back in June. This new kit option was part of our continuing effort to make Trailer Blocks a leader in trailer performance endeavors. The steel plate kits received positive feedback and we couldn’t have been happier with the results of our first new kit addition. We have more kit options in development in 2015 and we'll have news for you soon. We’re looking forward to the continuing development of our inventory lineup and as always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

As the year began, we wanted to make it more of a priority to engage our readers via the blog and social media, as we wanted to share our knowledge and stories with you and vice versa. First, we launched our photo gallery in April to show you a range of scenic high-quality pictures from our performance voyages. A few days later, we announced our new blog format: multiple series of entries, each with a dedicated focus. Blogs in Motion allowed us to answer your questions and address some off-topic talk, the After-Action Report brought you the technical details and subjective analysis from our performance voyages and Updates kept readers informed on all our major announcements. A few months later in October, we began a Community Spotlight feature, focusing on user-submitted installation stories and photos through social media. Finally, we’ll be introducing a new series called TrailerTech to bring you trailer maintenance/performance tips and methods. We’ve got a lot of content in the works, including the first entry of the alternative energy series, so keep reading in the New Year. There’s more to come.

Our most ambitious project came in August when our team took to the road once again for our second open-road expedition. This year, we set our sights on the Robert Bourassa Dam in north Quebec, nearly 1,500 kilometers from our starting point. We chose our vehicle/trailer combo, accessorized it with our equipment and set-off, eager for the journey ahead. The expedition was a rousing success; a large amount of pictures and videos were recorded to share and we learned a great deal about our accessories’ strength on a rigorous voyage. Our tour of Hydro-Quebec’s facilities provided us with some interesting facts regarding hydroelectric power and other methods of alternative energy production. Ultimately, the Heavy Performance Expedition proved to be the most rewarding challenge our team has yet faced and we took satisfaction in knowing that our equipment can withstand harsh, vigorous journeys and that every step was documented so that you could share in our experience.

From all of us here at Trailer Blocks, have a safe and Happy New Year and we’ll see you in 2015!

23 Sep

After-Action Report: The Robert Bourassa Heavy Performance Expedition

Welcome to a new entry of the After-Action Report, where we hit the open road to see if our equipment can handle a true endurance test in the furthest reaches of the northern road network.

Every journey needs a destination and ours was the Robert Bourassa hydroelectric dam outside the northern Quebec town of Radisson, nearly 1,500 km from our starting location in Ontario. The road to Radisson was a thoroughly intense one, a voyage comprised of stunning environments, gorgeous landscapes and occasionally harsher roads. Thankfully, our setup was up to the task yet again. For this voyage, we chose a Ford E-350 XLT Super Duty Van. Attached to the van was a tandem-axle travel trailer providing us with all of the survival necessities.

Our journey began late on a Thursday afternoon. It was our intention to traverse the open highways all throughout the night, an experience that the drivers found both daunting and enjoyable. Our van-rig performed excellent on the open highway and we used 3rd and 4th gear mostly. Initially we left the van's transmission overdrive on but when the roads became hilly and rural we disabled overdrive. Our average speed was 95 KM/H or roughly 60 MP/H.

The Van on the Dam

 The first hurdle of our journey complete, we set up camp just outside Radisson and spent the next day taking in the sights. The northern reaches of Canada contain some of the most scenic territory we’ve ever seen. The day’s light showed us a vast collection of surrounding forests and pristine lakes while the moonlight revealed a night sky free of any traces of civilization. We were kilometers from any sources of major light pollution and as a result, the stars were able to shine with all their uninterrupted splendor. The whole of the Milky Way felt within our grasp. Past midnight and after a relaxing drink by the fire, we set forth to find a good spot to stargaze and we soon beheld the glorious green display of the aurora borealis streaking across the sky. We were all stargazers in our youths, looking up at the black of night and wondering what was out there. To see such lights in so remote a place was nothing short of inspiring.

Our final day in Radisson was spent pursuing the namesake of this trip, a visit to the Robert Bourassa dam. In order to do this, we left our base of operations and partook in Hydro Quebec’s local tour of their vast network of hydroelectric dams. We observed the interior workings of a hydroelectric station, observed turbines up close and explored the dam’s network. The tour was an insightful one and it culminated in our ultimate destination: the Robert Bourassa dam, the crown jewel of the James Bay Project. This dam is Canada’s largest hydroelectric power station and the eighth largest station in the world; standing 162m (531 ft) tall and 2,835m (9,301 ft) wide. The dam is capable of generating over 5,600 megawatts of clean energy and together with the other dams; approximately 16,000 megawatts are produced, making up 75% of Hydro Quebec’s total power output. However, the most impressive aspect is the dam’s main spillway, aptly nicknamed the “Staircase of the Giants”. Each of the Staircase’s ten “steps” is roughly the size of two football fields combined, providing a true sense of scale when you see it. We observed the Staircase both up close from the dam and from an adjacent observation deck, taking in the sheer size of this man-made marvel cut into the Canadian Shield. It was a truly epic way to end our time in the town of Radisson, as we then returned to our trailer and departed, commencing the second phase of our journey: the trip to James Bay. We traveled west along the road to Chisasibi and beyond, traversing the harsh washboard roads towards Fort George and ultimately on to the barren coast of James Bay.

The Staircase of Giants

 All in all, we considered our second journey – The Heavy Performance Expedition to be a rousing success. Our van and trailer endured the lengthy journey there and back and our equipment tests were successful. This trip yielded good subjective analysis testing results for future comparison with other configurations. 

Heavy Performance Expedition - Subjective Results

The sights of The North were astounding to behold and we learned much about a prominent alternative energy source: Hydroelectricity. We hoped you enjoyed our recount of the journey and as part of our media release; we’ll be releasing a series of high-definition photos & videos on our Imgur & YouTube accounts, giving you a small taste of the northern roads.

Keep an eye on the Blog and Twitter for future updates; we’ll have more for you soon!


08 Sep

Update: Photo Gallery, New Content

Our first wave of post-Performance Expedition content has been released!

The expedition was one filled with gorgeous sights and we took quite a few pictures along the way. We invite you to come experience the true northern reaches of Canada and share in the both natural and man-made wonder.

Just click on the Photography tab and you'll find over 80, high-quality pictures of the journey. That's all we have right now, but keep an eye out as we have both the After-Action Report and some video content yet to come.

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