On my first day at the World Energy Congress (WEC) in Montreal I was able to visit the Beauharnois Hydroelectric Generating Station. As part of the WEC Future Energy Leaders Program (FELP), they offered us the choice of three departure times to the station. Myself and some of the other Siemens FELs were fortunate to gain a place on the 10:15am bus, which gave us time for a good sleep to adjust to the time difference as well as a good breakfast before boarding the bus.

The journey took us out into the countryside approximately 50 minutes outside of Montreal, and the time on the bus was the perfect opportunity to get to know the FELs sitting close by. Young people from many different companies and agencies and truly coming from all the four corners of the world.

On arrival we were split into two groups. My group's guide, Alex, used the maps and diagrams to introduce the history and the location of the plant. A video and questions then allowed us to complete the picture. And what a picture - even in the winter Quebec can cover 80% of its energy needs through its own hydro power generation! Heating in homes is even driven by electricity. And in the summer their excess capacity is sold to North East America, providing funding for public services in Quebec as well as investment in developing more energy sources.

The second half of our visit was actually a tour inside the generating plant itself. After donning our safety hats and glasses, we followed the marked pathways and through one of the large doors. Passing through the entrance the art deco style of the building was apparent - as was the fact that the employees are clearly very proud of the plant's heritage. First stop was next to one of the units - where we could take in the sheer size of the rotors, stators and turbines. And the length of the plant - almost one kilometer!!! Luckily we stopped at unit 5 and then went down one level where a few people at a time we were able to get inside the turbine casing and see it revolving just below our feet and turning the huge shaft that led up to the rotor and made it turn inside the stator to excite the electrons and create the electricity. Truly a unique view of how energy is created.

Next stop on the tour was to head right up onto the top of the plant where first impression had to be the view! Wow - looking back up the canal at the broad expanse of water in the manmade canal gave a sense of what the change in the landscape must have been like - and also the immense efforts required to create the canal in the first place. The special geological phenomenom that means between the two lakes there is a 24m drop really provided a perfect position for the hydro plant. Alex explained the efforts to keep the grills through which the water feeds clear and also how the grills and the vanes help to keep a constant flow of water around the turbine so that the rotor turns at constant speed. How the water is discharged into the lower lake, with wonderful views across to Montreal in the distance.

Then followed with the explanation of the special adaptations to minimise effect on the wildlife. For example, the eels need to migrate back up the river each year for breeding - and of course going down a 24m drop is a shock, but going up unaided is an impossibility! So special eel ladders were put in place which means they can continue their journey. Going down the canal the eels and fish pass through the turbine, apparently without much more than feeling a little dizzy! I'm not sure I would want to be a fish going through a turbine - I might need a lot of encouragement from some fellow fish!

Finally, as we left we followed the path following from the transmittors which stand at attention like a line of soldiers on the top of the long wall of the plant along the lines to where they converge and then join the grid. From our vantage point we could also see how energy intensive industries such as recycling plants and aluminium plants had set up in the immediate vicinity in order to take the energy straight from the plant and thus minimise the enrgy lost when it has to travel over long distances.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, the conversation again was varied, discussing what we had just seen and learnt as well as finding out more about each other and our respective companies. Already strong relationships were forming; relationships that will grow as our knowledge of this planet's energy challenges and the solutions to those challenges will also grow over the coming days of the conference and the coming years of our careers.

Learn more about the Beauharnois Hydroelectric Generating Station.