Where does the energy come from in a canal lock?

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You can lift a zillion-ton ore barge 30 feet like magic, and nothing seems to have done the work. Help me get it.
 

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  • #2
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There's a difference in water level.
 
  • #3
AlephZero
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Either the water that filled the lock flowed from a higher level and lost some potential energy, or else the water was pumped into the lock and energy was used to drive the pump.
 
  • #4
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There's a difference in water level.
And ...? The water would rise just the same if the barge weren't there.
 
  • #5
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Either the water that filled the lock flowed from a higher level and lost some potential energy, or else the water was pumped into the lock and energy was used to drive the pump.
When the lock is full again, the water is back where it was, and in, say, a hydro dam, the water is slowed going through the turbine. In a lock , it simply flows there whether there is a load or not. And what kind of canal lock pumps water, when all you have to do is let the higher water in? What am I not seeing?
 
  • #6
jtbell
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And ...? The water would rise just the same if the barge weren't there.
If there's no barge in the lock, more water has to flow in, in order to reach the same level. In fact, the mass of the "extra" water equals the mass of the barge, because the barge displaces a mass of water equal to its own mass.
 
  • #7
russ_watters
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When the lock is full again, the water is back where it was, and in, say, a hydro dam, the water is slowed going through the turbine. In a lock , it simply flows there whether there is a load or not. And what kind of canal lock pumps water, when all you have to do is let the higher water in? What am I not seeing?
Water that would have flowed through the turbine flows through the lock instead.
 
  • #8
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If there's no barge in the lock, more water has to flow in, in order to reach the same level. In fact, the mass of the "extra" water equals the mass of the barge, because the barge displaces a mass of water equal to its own mass.
I'm sure I'm being thick, but are you saying that the energy comes from the water that doesn't enter the lock? If you fill the lock with the same amount of water it would hold if the barge were there, its surface would be at a lower level, and more potential energy would have been lost than if it had lifted a barge. I'm hoping you can spot the idiotic misapprehension in what I'm thinking here.
 
  • #9
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Water that would have flowed through the turbine flows through the lock instead.
What? At what point does the flow give up energy in a lock?
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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What? At what point does the flow give up energy in a lock?
When you open the entrance gate and let the water in the lock spill into the lower level.
 
  • #11
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When you open the entrance gate and let the water in the lock spill into the lower level.
Right, which it would do anyway.
 
  • #13
russ_watters
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Right, which it would do anyway.
....but through a turbine. You lose energy by just dumping the water instead of running it through a turbine.
 
  • #14
Ryan_m_b
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You can lift a zillion-ton ore barge 30 feet like magic, and nothing seems to have done the work. Help me get it.
Ultimately the answer is the sun. Let's deal with a purely mechanical lock and a ship going upstream: A boat enters the lock and the gate closes. The gate before them releases water from upstream which raises the boat. The gate them opens and the boat proceeds.

This water must be bought back up at some point and this is achieved by the hydrosphere cycle i.e. the downstream water eventually evaporates and rains again on land.

Is this the answer you are looking for?
 
  • #15
jtbell
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If there's no barge in the lock, more water has to flow in, in order to reach the same level. In fact, the mass of the "extra" water equals the mass of the barge, because the barge displaces a mass of water equal to its own mass.
I'm sure I'm being thick, but are you saying that the energy comes from the water that doesn't enter the lock?
The point I'm trying to make is that it takes the same amount of energy to fill the lock so that the water line ends up at a certain level, regardless of whether there is a boat in the lock or not. With the boat in the lock, you have to lift x kilograms of boat and y kilograms of water. Without the boat in the lock, you have to lift x+y kilograms of water.

If you fill the lock with the same amount of water it would hold if the barge were there, its surface would be at a lower level
The purpose of a lock is to get the water level up (or down) to a certain point, namely the level that matches the water level outside the lock at the exit end. So if the barge isn't there, you have to add more water if you're going upwards, or drain more water if you're going downwards.
 
  • #16
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Ultimately the answer is the sun. Let's deal with a purely mechanical lock and a ship going upstream: A boat enters the lock and the gate closes. The gate before them releases water from upstream which raises the boat. The gate them opens and the boat proceeds.

This water must be bought back up at some point and this is achieved by the hydrosphere cycle i.e. the downstream water eventually evaporates and rains again on land.

Is this the answer you are looking for?
I think I grok the water cycle. I'd like to apologize for getting turned around back there---I got the entrance gate and the exit gate reversed in my head somehow. I also grok a lock.

Your answer does help if I imagine using the same water over again. I'm still a bit baffled by the seeming effortlessness of the process. Therer are many unintuitive phenomena in nature, and I guess I'll have to accept this as one more. I never could get my head around potential energy, anyway---it always seemed like giving a name to the inscrutable, treating energy as a substance like an alchemist or something.
 
  • #17
russ_watters
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Good point, jtbell, and let me expand to help clarify.

There are actually two different sources of loss being discussed:

1. In a real lock, water is just allowed to flow through when the gates are opened (or valves and pipes, more likely). This loss could theoretically be eliminated by putting turbines in. You'd have one turbine by the high side gate to recover energy from filling the lock and another turbine by the low side gate to recover energy from emptying the lock. This volume of water is the length and width of the lock times the lift height. At first glance, this appears to be all of the energy required, which would imply that the lift is free, but it isn't....

2. When a ship enters the lock at the bottom it pushes out a parcel of water equal to its own displacement. When it leaves at the top, it allows back in the same volume of water. That volume of water sneaks past the turbines by going through the open gates instead of through the pipes and turbines. That's the energy that is really expended and "lost" to lift the ship.
 
  • #18
Khashishi
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Couldn't we stick a dam on the Panama canal and generate a lot of energy that way?
 
  • #19
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Some energy could be gained from tides, if the canal would be flat (or had a connection at sea level). But the panama canal is long, the height difference is not very large and the canal is not at sea level at the moment. You could try to get some energy from the locks, as water from rivers flows down there. But I doubt that this would give you much power.
 
  • #20
haruspex
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It might help if you imagine that at first that boat is anchored fast to the riverbed. When the water flows in from upstream it floods over the (watertight) boat. Now release the boat and see the weight of descending water supplying the energy to lift the rising boat.
 
  • #21
sophiecentaur
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I'm still a bit baffled by the seeming effortlessness of the process. Therer are many unintuitive phenomena in nature, and I guess I'll have to accept this as one more. I never could get my head around potential energy, anyway---it always seemed like giving a name to the inscrutable, treating energy as a substance like an alchemist or something.
There is loads of (solar) energy involved in evaporating a volume of water that is equivalent to the weight of the boat. OK, it's "free" energy but the Nuclear reactions in the Sun produce 1kW on every square metre of the Earth's surface (at the Equator). If you imagine that weight of water falling (as rain) into a large bucket on one side of a huge see-saw, then the boat would also be lifted up. That would be "effortless" too and you could raise the boat up to the height of the raincloud, too.

You are quite justified in feeling uneasy about Potential Energy as a commodity. Energy is not an easy concept, even though it's something very familiar that our lives revolve around. It was a smart move when Scientists made the connection between all the various forms of energy. Joule did very well to put the mockers on the old 'Caloric' theory of heat.
 

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