This month, I thought it only appropriate to choose an Olympic pylon in recognition of the London Olympics. If you are looking at the picture and wondering what makes this an Olympic pylon then you need to know where it is located in order to make the link. The photo is taken over the River Lea (or Lee) near Clapton in East London, with Hackney marshes to the left and Lea Bridge road to the right. So it is located in the area of London where the Olympic park is located and it was the regenaration of this area of London that formed such an important part of the bid to host the games. As with all regeneration projects, some of the past history of the area is lost and this River Lea website has a fascinating history of the area and the following paragraph caught my eye. If the modern electronics industry began in this area, it seems an even more appropriate choice for Pylon of the Month.
"The Lea Valley was for years the industrial centre of London and home to many inventions. Here was the first monorail (horse-drawn), the driving power behind the motorcycle industry, the great railway works, buses, guns, gunpowder, chemicals, shipbuilding and much more. In the first half of the 20th century this was the UK's 'silicon valley''. The modern electronics revolution began with the invention of the diode by Ambrose Fleming at Ediswan in Ponders End in 1904, and companies including Thorn, MK, Belling, Ferguson (and much later, Amstrad) set up factories here."
The corporate sponshorship of the olympics is a subject of some controversy at the moment, but I will avoid getting involved in that debate and just point out that EDF are the official electricity suppliers to the Olympics and if this makes you keen to know more then you can visit their pavillion in the Olympic park.
So enjoy the Olympics and come back next month when it will be time for my holiday pylon (Greece again this year) and more pylon related news, views and information.
I have a backlog of pylon pictures sent in by fans from all over the world. I try to mix them up with pylon pictures from the UK so that the blog doesn't lose touch with its roots, but as soon as this image arrived in my inbox I knew it had to be the June 2012 pylon. Why? Because the three bright dots in the sky above the pylon are the moon, Saturn and Jupiter. This month sees the last transit of Venus until December 2117 and so an astronomical themed pylon seemed very appropriate. I think (not knowing exactly when the photo was taken) that Venus is the lower of the two planets (pretty much alongside the moon) and it really is worth clicking on the image to enlarge it and see it in all its glory. For more on the transit (and if you are a keen follower of astronomy you have probably had enough by now) then this Cocktail Party Physics blog post is a good place to start. I got up at sunrise (0450ish) on the 6th June and the clouds cleared at about 0530 and so I saw the last 20 minutes which was made the early start well worth it.
But now to more pylon focused matters. This month's picture was taken in Ballyfermot, a suburb of Dublin. If you look carefully you will see that some of the arms of the pylon don't have wires attached because they were still under construction as the photo was taken. I'm not sure what the pylons are being built for, but it gives me an opportunity to talk about the plans to link up the Irish and British electricity grids. Britain is an importer of electricity from numerous sources. One of these sources is Northern Ireland via the Moyle Interconnector, although that was broken last year and is still not up and running again as far as I can see. There are also links to the Netherlands and France and if you have an ipad or ipod you can see live data via this app about where the electricity is being generated at any given moment. But the new link under construction is to run from Rush North Beach in County Dublin to Barkby Beach in North Wales and is known as the East-West interconnector. For the benefits of the project as seen by the company building it, look here. Interestingly, the Guardian last year had an article about the possibility of wind farms on the West coast of Ireland being linked to the UK by another interconnector but given the impact of large numbers of wind turbines on the beatiful coast of Dingle and Kerry, whether this project goes any further is very much open to debate.
So from astronomy to the West coast of Ireland via the UK's imported electricity supply. Another month where Pylon of the Month provides information on subjects that you probably had no idea could be linked together. Come back next month for more!
I've been meaning to feature a pylon like this one ever since reading Alan de Botton's splendid book 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work'. It has a chapter on electricity transmission and pylons and in it, he has this to say about pylons:
"In different species, I noted varieties of modesty or arrogance, honesty or shiftiness, and in one 150-kilovolt type in ubiquitous use in southern Finland I even detected a coquettish sexuality in the way the central mast held out a delicate hand to its conductor wire"
Judging by the interview in the Independent from where I grabbed this quote, I wasn't the only person to be rather surprised by the use of the word coquettish in relation to pylons. In the dictionary, "coquettish" is defined as flirtatious or sexy and these are not the first words which spring to mind when thinking of pylons. But then again (and at the risk of sounding a lot weirder than I actualy am), I can kind of see what he means when I look at this month's pylon with its rather provocative lack of symmetry.
On a more prosaic note, the picture was taken from the car park of Millets Farm near Abingdon-on-Thames (Britain's oldest continuously occupied town) in Oxfordshire. So it is easy to visit and you can do a bit of food shopping and visit the garden centre at the same time. So if you are looking for a fun day out for all the family now that summer now icumen in you know where to go.
This month's pylon comes from Afganistan and at a height of around 3800m above sea level, I'm pretty certain that the pylon in the background of the picture is the highest pylon to feature on Pylon of the Month. Are there any higher pylons anywhere in the world? Answers in an e-mail to Pylon of the Month please. It is located along the Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul transmission line, where it runs over the Salang pass which links Northern Afghanistan to Southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also along this line is the Chimtala substation. There is lots of information about this substation here, but a direct quote may fill in a few details for those without the time to read more deeply:
A terminal link of Afghanistan's North East Power System (NEPS), the Chimtala substation is an infrastructure project funded by India as part of its assistance package to the Afghanistan Government. Located near Afghanistan's capital Kabul, the substation imports power from Uzbekistan to Kabul.
From my perspective as a physicist, there are more exciting details about how the electricity is transmitted using a Double Circuit transmission line. They use the acronym DC for this, but as this also stands for Direct Current (as opposed to Alternating Current or AC), I can see scope for confusion here. I'll put it on my list of things I need to understand more deeply. So here is the quote:
The 220/110/20kV substation supplies additional power from the 220kV Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul double circuit (DC) transmission line. Passing over the Salang Range at an altitude of 3,800m, the transmission line is 202km long.
So this month, Pylon of the Month has brought you some beautiful mountain scenery, a dash of advanced electrical theory and story of things getting better in a troubled part of the world. How am I going to top that next month?
We start 2012 with a Kenyan pylon (not the first to be featured, see October 2009 for the first Kenyan pylon). The wind and rain are rattling against the window as I write this and so after a rather miserable start to the year on the weather front, I thought that a clear blue sky was just what was needed to raise spirits everywhere. Sadly, I haven't been to Kenya but fans of the website sent this pylon picture in after spending a few weeks out there in 2011. As the safari jeeps drove slowly through the bush with everyone keeping a keen eye out for wildlife, a shout of "STOP" caught everybody's attention. Was it a lion, a cheetah or an elephant? No, it was this rather spendid pylon and so a photograph was taken and 'Pylon of the Month' was explained to some rather bemused fellow travellers . Those with an interest in electricity generation will be keen to know that 80% of electricity consumed in Kenya is produced by the state owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) and that they run fourteen hydropower plants, three thermal power plants, two geothermal power plants and one wind farm.
If a Kenyan pylon on its own isn't enough to get 2012 off to a flying start, pylon fans with an interest in art will be delighted to know that there is an exhibition this month in London (Camden to be more precise) of paintings by Joe Simpson. The exhibition is called "Everything is Electrified" and it runs from January 20th-30th. The website has this to say about the paintings:
In a departure from his normal figurative paintings, Joe created the pieces with a range of media – including oil paint, marker pens, acrylic paint, ball-point pens and crayons.
Which all sounds very promising and one of the pictures is here to whet your appetite.
After all the excitement of September when Pylon of the Month featured on The One Show I have had a busy time and so hence the very delayed publication of a new pylon. Normal service should be resumed in December, so for for all you pylon fans who have contacted me (there have been quite a few; seriously), there is no cause for alarm. What else could I do for November other than to showcase the winning pylon from the Royal Institute of British Architects Pylon Design competition.
As Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne said:
”This is an innovative design which is simple, classical and practical. Its ingenious structure also means that it will be much shorter and smaller than existing pylons and therefore less intrusive. This competition has been a great success in bringing forward new and creative approaches to a pylon model which has not changed since the 1920s.We are going to need a lot more pylons over the next few years to connect new energy to our homes and businesses and it is important that we do this is in the most beautiful way possible.”
I have to confess that the winning design wasn't the one that I voted for as part of the public consultation, but now that I can see the winning design in a suitably festive landscape I can see why it won. If you want to look at all the entries (and some of them are really very imaginative if somewhat impractical) then look at the competition gallery.
September marks the beginning of the new school year and so with this academic theme in mind I thought that an Oxford pylon would be appropriate. This picture was taken from a bridge over the railway line about a mile or so south of the city centre in Kennington (very near the entrance to the Redbridge recycling centre if you are in the area and want to visit). The picture is taken looking towards Oxford, the city famous for its 'Dreaming Spires', a term coined by Matthew Arnold in his poem 'Thyrsis'. So perhaps the subtitle to this months post should be "The Dreaming Pylons of Oxford".
September promises to be a very exciting month for pylon fans in the UK. Regular readers of this blog might remember that in May this year, I mentioned a competition that is underway to design the pylons of the future. The 'Pylon Design Competition' is trying to choose a pylon design that is more aesthetically pleasing than the current industrial soldiers. If you want to get a feel for cutting edge pylons, then look at these designs that won competitions in Italy and Iceland. I have written before about the origins of the current UK design chosen by Reginald Blomfield (who was also on the committee that chose the design of the iconic red telephone box) and only last month about the origins of the word 'pylon'. So if you want to be a part of pylon history then you really should be in London on Wednesday 14th September at the Victoria and Albert Museum when the finalists in the competition will be announced by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne. Sadly as it is at 11:00am, I can't be there, so I will have to work on getting an invitation to the announcement (in October) of the winner. But I will play my part because the shortlist will be subject to public consultation and once I have found out how to comment, I will certainly be playing my part in shaping the future of pylons.
Tweet After a break from pylons in July, Pylon of the Month is back again and as summer is with us it is time for the pylon picture taken on my holidays. This year, it comes from Greece and it was taken in the village of Agios Floros just north of Kalamata (famous for its delicious olives) as we drove back to Athens after a wonderful two weeks on the Mani peninsula. We stayed in Kardamili, a small but beautiful village that until recently was the home of the famous travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. His book, Mani, is well worth a read if you want to get a feel for this part of Greece as it was in the 1950s. His most famous book, however, is probably 'A Time of Gifts' which tells the story of the first part of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in the 1930s. He fought in the Second World War and led the raid that captured and evacuated the German Commander from Crete as made famous by the film ''Ill met by Moonlight'.
On one day trip we went to Pylos and it did occur to me that there might be a link between Pylos and pylons. If there is I can't find it, but I did stumble across an excellent discussion on the origin of the word pylon (meaning a tower carrying electricity cables). Keen pylon fans will already know that the original use of the word was to describe the gateway to an Egyptian temple, but the first use in the modern sense cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1923 (pre-dating the building of the National Grid which began in 1928).
"A tall tower-like structure erected as a support for a cable, etc.; spec. (now the principal use) a lattice-work metal tower for carrying overhead electricity lines.
1923 E. SHANKS Richest Man iii. 52 Half a mile up the mountain, a cable, a thin black line, traversed the crystal air, borne up on pylons"
It is not clear how 'pylon' came to have this meaning but there is much interesting etymological discussion to had here for those keen to expand their pylon knowledge. The Pylon Poets (see this previous Pylon of the Month post for further details) do get a mention in the OED as well and one contributor to the discussion wonders if they played a part in popularising the use of the word with a deliberately ironic reference to ancient monuments. Fascinating stuff and if you ever meet anyone who thinks that pylons are boring, do enlighten them.