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Power Plants


Photograph of Boulder Dam (Hoover Dam)

National Archives. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The power plants of 1941 were little different from the non-nuclear power plants of today. The basic thermodynamic and electromagnetic principles involved had been well-understood for decades and the technology had had time to mature. Whereas the typical coal-fired plant of 1901 took about 7 pounds (3 kg) of coal to generate a kilowatt-hour of electrical energy, the most modern plants of 1941 could produce a kilowatt-hour from just a pound (450 grams) of coal, which remains the typical figure today. The chief difference is that modern power plants have much more extensive emission controls to reduce pollution.

Most plants of 1941 used coal to generate steam with which to drive electrical generators.  However, the hydroelectric potential of the western United States, Japan, Korea, Tasmania, and New Zealand was being rapidly developed when war broke out. Japan enjoyed relatively abundant electrical power because of its extensive hydroelectric development, which provided 55% of its total power production. The chief disadvantage of hydroelectric power, aside from its environmental impact, is that it was vulnerable to drought, with power generation by the American Tennessee Valley Authority dropping 40% in 1941 due to regional drought.

Aside from its use in residential areas and to run factory machinery, electrical power was indispensable for production of aluminum, magnesium, and other nonferrous metals and advanced alloy steel, and even a temporary loss of power could severely damage electrolytic aluminum smelters.  Electric arc welding was also being increasingly used in ship construction.

Power consumption was a good measure of total industrial activity. For example, the collapse of electrical power consumption in Shanghai during the occupation shows that industrial production had come close to a standstill by the end of 1943:

Industrial consumption of electric power in Shanghai area (Hsiung and Levine 1992)

Year
Indices
1936
100.0
1937 
82.4
1938
72.5
1939
102.9
1940
105.5
1941
80.0
1942
50.0
1943
40.0

Total generating capacity in the United States at the start of 1941 was 45 million kilowatts plus another ten million in industrial plants. About a third came from hydroelectric power.

Major power plants in the Pacific

Arapuni

Bhira

Bhivpuri

Big Creek

Bonneville

Boulder

Cauvery Falls

Fusenko

Gishu

Grand Coulee

Jitsugetsutan
Kurobe
Parker
Pitt
Rock Creek
Ross-Diablo
Ruskin
Sanjo
Shinanogawa
Suiho
Ta-feng-man
Tarraleah
Waikaremoana
Waitaki
Yamaba

References

Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Klein (2013)

Miller (2007)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)


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