Heimbach power plant turns 100
<8/8/2005> Today, the oldest and certainly most beautiful power plant of RWE - the Heimbach power plant - celebrates its 100th anniversary. The hydroelectric power plant which is situated on the northern edge of the Eifel mountains clearly follows the art nouveau style in its architecture and design. When commissioned on August 8, 1905, Heimbach was after all Europe's largest hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of 12 megawatts.
The Heimbach power plant was commissioned on August 8, 1905 after a construction period of less than two years. At the time, it was of supraregional importance. The electrical energy produced was fed into the plant's own, almost 400 km long overhead line network at a voltage of 35 kV, supplying the administrative district of Aachen. Before long, however, the rapid progress of industrialization and the dramatic increase in electricity requirements made it impossible for the Heimbach power plant to manage this task on its own. As a result, it started to operate in interconnection with other power plants.
Up to the present time, the Heimbach power plant has kept its special charm, being regarded as the most beautiful art nouveau style power plant in Germany. And the first-time visitor to the plant will be rather reminded of a church building than a technical facility. Due to its special and unique design, the Heimbach power plant has come to be classified as a historic monument. To the present day, the architect of the plant has not been clearly identified. However, a lot of evidence points to Georg Frenzen, an Aachen-based architect, as being responsible for the artistic design of the power plant.
The water for the Heimbach power plant comes from the Urft reservoir, being supplied via a 2.7 km long tunnel. It is here that the meandering rivers Rur and Urft offer the opportunity to cut off a loop of around 28 km and thus exploit a gradient of 110 meters which is unusually large for low mountain ranges. At the outset, there were eight generating sets to use the water’s potential energy for electricity production. A total water volume of 16 cubic meters per second flowed through eight Francis turbines. The power of the turbines was transmitted to the generators via wire rope couplings. The 90 meter long manila ropes had to be replaced every three years.
Reconstruction after the war
The Heimbach power plant survived World War II relatively undamaged. However, on February 11, 1945, the German armed forces blew up the tunnel seals on the power plant's side to prevent the allied forces from breaking through to the Rhine. As a consequence, the Urft reservoir drained completely and the power plant was flooded by masses of water and rubble. Following extensive and arduous cleanup and repair work – both labor and tools were in short supply – the first four turbines could be started up again in January 1948, followed by the other four turbines at the end of the year.
Modernization in 1975
In 1975, the eight old turbines and generators had reached the end of their lives and were replaced by two new generating sets with markedly higher capacities. The two new sets now have an aggregate capacity of 16,000 kilowatts and utilize 18 cubic meters of water per second. The Heimbach power plant generates around 25 million kilowatt-hours of electrical energy per year, sufficient to supply some 7,800 households.
Two of the old generating sets and the multi-storey switching station, which have been carefully restored and are being maintained with dedication, still convey a vivid impression of the beginnings of electrical power production. Every year, numerous visitors come and enjoy a close-up look of the old technology with its large dimensions and the mahogany-bordered marble tables placed directly next to the new technology. The power plant also houses a comprehensive collection of electric domestic appliances – from the early beginnings to the present day.