Pylon of the Month - December 2022

N05447_10

December's Pylon of the Month was chosen to bring a bit of colour to the depths of winter and also to bring a bit of culture to the blog. The picture above, La Route des Alpes, is by Tristram Hiller and was painted in 1937 when he was staying near Vence, a commune set in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France, north of Nice and Antibes. Even the keenest followers of the blog might struggle to recall that Hiller also featured on PotM back in January 2014 with his 1933 pylon painting which is generally accepted as one of the earliest or possibly even the first artistic appearance of a pylon. Hillier studied at the Slade School of Art, London, in 1926, and then in Paris where he fell under the influence of surrealists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. According to the Tate's description of this painting, Hillier later wrote that when staying near Vence:

I started to paint landscape again, not in my earlier manner en plein air, but attempting to construct my pictures from rough drawings which I would elaborate in the studio, in the style of the Flemish and Italian masters whose work I had recently had so much opportunity of studying. This was the beginning of my ultimate phase in painting, and became the manner in which I have worked ever since.

For a bit more on the life of Hillier, this short 6 minute film is hard to beat, but if you're looking for a deep dive into his artistic influences and how he blurred the distinction between abstraction and surrealism then this Art UK article is where to go. For a wider cultural overview of pylons and the art and poetry of the 1920s then James Purdon's 'Landscapes of Power' is excellent.

Merry Christmas to pylon fans everywhere! Next month we'll get back to pylons in real life.

 


Pylon of the Month - November 2022

E__LvcaVkAMWuPt

This month's stunning pylon photograph first caught my eye on Twitter where it was posted by @FinnHop. You can also find him on Instagram and via @PhotoBrighton. It's up there with the most stunning photos to have featured on the blog.

Screenshot 2022-11-19 133814

Autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness seems to have arrived as I write this in the middle of November, so it's a perfect image for the time of year.  Although I've been to Brighton a few times, the South Downs is a National Park that I've never really visited so it's another entry on my ever growing 'Places to Visit' list.

A quick look at the Open Infrastructure Map tells me that the pylons are likely to be linked in some way to Shoreham Power Station a 420MWe combined cycle gas-fired power station in Southwick, West Sussex. I'm a Physics teacher so obviously, I'm familiar with MegaWatts (MW), but the 'e' afterward led me to an SI unit controversy that might be one of the most niche rabbit holes I've disappeared down since starting the blog. Below is an extract from the Wikipedia page on the SI unit of power, the Watt, in particular the sub-section on "Conventions in the electric power industry". This really is one for only the most ardent of electricity geeks.

In the electric power industry, megawatt electrical (MWe refers by convention to the electric power produced by a generator, while megawatt thermal or thermal megawatt (MWt or MWth) refers to thermal power produced by the plant. For example, the Embalse nuclear power plant in Argentina uses a fission reactor to generate 2109 MWt (i.e. heat), which creates steam to drive a turbine, which generates 648 MWe (i.e. electricity). Other SI prefixes are sometimes used, for example gigawatt electrical (GWe). The International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which maintains the SI-standard, states that further information about a quantity should not be attached to the unit symbol but instead to the quantity symbol (i.e., Pthermal = 270 W rather than P = 270 Wth) and so these units are non-SI.

It's raining outside as I finish this post, but I'm hoping for more cold misty days like the one in the photo above. On that note, I'll leave it there for this month. See you in December!

 

 

 


Pylon of the Month - October 2022

IMG_20221016_154704918-01

As mid-October came and went, I still hadn't decided on a pylon for the blog when fate intervened and these beauties crossed my path (literally - I was on a short walking holiday with a friend). They can be found close to the village of Coughton just south of Ross-on-Wye. If like me, you are walking the Wye Valley trail in a northerly direction, they are just before the sting in the tail of the Monmouth to Ross leg - a very steep path up to Chase Wood before the final descent. The pylons lower down the hill are on the 132 kV Hereford-Port Ham line and the sub-station at Port Ham would be well worth a visit if only such things were possible. It was finished in 2006 and rather than air insulated switchgear (AIS), it adopted an alternative approach:

based on ABB’s ELK-04 GIS (gas insulated switchgear), the compact design of which meant that the replacement switching station could be housed indoors in a new purpose-built building that occupies less than one fifth of the space used by the previous AIS switching station.

Switchgear is a rabbit hole that I just can't afford to go down - If I did I might not emerge for a few days, so I'll move on to the upslope pylons which are on the National Grid's Walham-Rassau 400 kV line. Regular readers will know that 400 kV is the highest voltage used in the UK and 200 kV and 400 kV lines make up what is known as the super grid - the motorways of electricity transmission in the UK. The Walham-Rassau line is interesting to me for a number of reasons. The first is that if you follow it East beyond Walham (near Gloucester) you reach Didcot power station which is close to where I live. The second is that just West of where I saw the line it goes underground for 2.5 km as it crosses the Wye Valley. Going underground is not a decision taken lightly by National Grid because it costs considerably more than installing overhead lines, but in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the cost is worthwhile. If that whets your appetite for (lots) more detail, then the Electricity Transmission Costing Study from the Institute for Engineering and Technology (IET) and Parsons Brinkerhoff is well worth adding to your reading list. A quick glance at the Executive Summary is revealing (it's from 2012 so costs will have changed but the ratio of costs for different options is presumably broadly similar):

  • Overhead line (OHL) is the cheapest transmission technology for any given route length or circuit capacity, with the lifetime cost estimates varying between £2.2m and £4.2m per kilometre; however, OHL losses are the most sensitive to circuit loading.
  • Underground cable (UGC), direct buried, is the next cheapest technology after overhead line, for any given route length or circuit capacity. It thus also represents the least expensive underground technology, with the lifetime cost estimates varying between £10.2m and £24.1m per kilometre.

Phewee! That started with a lovely walk in the Wye Valley and ended up deep in the heart of technical reports about transmission infrastructure. That's the roller coaster ride that is Pylon of the Month!

 

 


Pylon of the Month - September 2022

IMG-20220820-WA0035_2-01

After taking the month of August off, the new school year starts with a holiday pylon. These beauties were snapped on the way to Preveza airport in Greece (by my daughter - I was driving) at the end of a wonderful two weeks on the island of Lefkada. This photo was one of many, but it caught my eye because it captures a tension pylon where the line is changing direction as well as a suspension pylon with the lines continuing straight. I also like the fact that the three conductors are side by side rather than stacked as is usually the case in the UK. I'm guessing that this is to reduce the height of the tower but it isn't something you see very often in the UK (if at all?) so it has a whiff the exotic about it! This type of pylon is (according to the French pylon Wikipedia page) a cat pylon (Le pylône Chat) and you can see why with the triangular features on top looking like ears. Whether that is a name recognised across international borders I have no idea - well travelled pylon experts please do get in touch and let me know.

The island of Lefkada is connected to the mainland via a 150 kV power line which continues (underwater) to the well known island of Cephalonia to the south. It therefore has the same electricity generation mix as Greece as a whole:

.......dominated by natural gas (36%) and coal (21.8%) while wind power served 15.2%, oil 9.6%, solar PV 8.3%, hydropower 8.3% and biomass 0.8% of the total generation.

The above quote is from the Islander project website, which is a project to accelerate the decarbonisation of islands' energy systems. The project started in Holland but there are now four follower islands - Orkney in Scotland, Cres in Croatia and Skopelos and Lefkada in Greece. There is still some way to go and Greece is identified as a green energy laggard in this Al Jazeera article from December 2021. The issue that seems to have prevented an earlier push for renewables is that Greece has considerable reserves of lignite and so many coal powered fire stations, but the mood is now shifting with a plan to phase out coal by 2028. Generating more energy using solar and wind seems to be a no-brainer for Greece and exporting solar energy could boost the Greek economy and help other European countries reach their renewable energy targets. That's pretty much the definition of a win-win situation.

That's all for now. See you next month for more pylon action!

 

 

 

 


Pylon of the Month - July 2022

IMG_20220706_092334568_HDR

July's Pylon of the Month comes from County Durham and whilst there are many more striking images of pylons on the blog, there is always a place for the quotidian picture taken on a whim - in this case, whilst stopping for petrol on the A167 a few miles south of the city of Durham. The pylon is on the 400 kV line that when viewed on open infrastructure map appears to originate from Blyth substation (via Stella West).

Screenshot 2022-07-09 123258

This is exciting news because Blyth is the substation next to the Cambois converter station which is where the North Sea Link from Norway makes landfall:

The North Sea Link is a 1,400 MW high-voltage direct current submarine power cable between Norway and the United Kingdom. At 720 km (450 mi) it is the longest subsea interconnector in the world. The cable became operational on 1 October 2021.

For more on interconnectors and the UK, this Financial Times article is worth reading. It notes that the cable has a capacity of 1.4 GW and that:

Interconnectors are a key part of the UK strategy for cutting emissions and boosting offshore wind because they allow the UK grid to share or import power depending on supply and demand.

Anyway, from the pylon to the personal. The reason for the visit to Durham was my daughter's graduation and it was lovely to celebrate her success although COVID had delayed the ceremony by a year. If you find yourself in the North East then as well as ticking off a few electricity infrastructure sites from your bucket list, Durham Cathedral is also spectacular and well worth some of your time. In fact, at the risk of causing offence to fans of the blog, if you have limited time I'd prioritise the cathedral. That's all for now. With the return of travel, next month's pylon will hopefully be a holiday pylon.

 

 

 


Pylon of the Month June 2022

IMG_20220528_154214-01

In November 2011, Pylon of the Month featured the winning design of a contest organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects to design a new pylon. Over ten years later and that design is being rolled out in Somerset and the National Grid website informs me that:

The new pylons form part of National Grid’s Hinkley Connection project, a £900m investment to connect low carbon electricity from Hinkley Point C Nuclear power station. They will run between Bridgwater and Portbury, other than through the Mendip Hills AONB where the new connection goes underground. The project also includes the removal of 249 electricity pylons between Bridgwater and Avonmouth.

These T-pylons have featured in newspapers, on TV/Radio and on Twitter over the last few months and I did consider using an image from the internet as May's Pylon of the Month. For such a defining moment in pylon history, however, that just seemed wrong. How could I, as a leading light of the pylon blogging world not be a witness to history myself before going into print? Fortunately, a half-term trip to Cornwall a few weeks ago allowed my wife to take this picture as we drove down the M5 with me trying not to swerve all over the road as I excitedly pointed out of the car window. A crash was avoided and a pleasant week in Cornwall followed. 

As can be seen, the pylons have a single pole and T-shaped cross arms which hold the wires in a diamond ‘earring’ shape. They are also only 35 metres high, a third shorter than traditional lattice pylons. They were designed by Bystrup:

the only company in the world, specialized in developing new power pylons for the global market. 

I wasn't sure what I'd make of them in the flesh but I have to say that I was impressed. I'm not entirely convinced that they are less visually intrusive than the traditional lattice pylons, but that may just be the shock of the new and in a few years time, perhaps I'll be driving down the motorway without even noticing them.

You can find out more about the design of the new pylons in this fascinating (8-minute) video and after that, you might well find yourself inventing an excuse to drive down the M5 to see them IRL. If you do, take a picture and tag @pylonofthemonth on Twitter or Instagram where there are always plenty of pylons to admire.


Pylon of the Month May 2022

FQvG_HEXEAcbl0z

May's Pylon of the Month first caught my eye on Twitter courtesy of @simoncgallagher and you can see more of his fantastic photography on Instagram. The picture was taken at sunset and the beautiful sky in the background immediately made me think of 'the violet hour' as described by T S Eliot in section three of The Wasteland. The phrase crops up more than once, but is most obviously related to evening by:

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
 
I'm not sure if it was T S Eliot who coined the phrase in the first instance, but in the unlikely event that any pylon fans also happen to be literary scholars specialising in TS Eliot and/or Modernism please do get in touch. Anyway, the violet hour has certainly got a bit of traction with a quick Google search revealing a contemporary art gallery, a Chicago cocktail bar, a play and a British alternative/folk rock band.
 
Anyway, back to the pylon which is an L6, a classic design introduced in the early 1960s and a common sight all across the UK. This one is on the Pelham 400 kV line just west of Bishop's Stortford and just north of the 715 MW CCGT Rye House power station. If you're looking for a reason to visit, it has the largest air-cooled condenser in Europe after which you can take your pick of the best pubs in Bishop's Stortford whilst you look back on a few hours well spent. That's all for now - come back next month for more or head to @pylonofthemonth on Twitter for more regular pylon action.

Pylon of the Month - April 2022

FPGRQDfWYAU13Th

I'm planning to post April's pylon early in the month by way of atonement for not posting in March. Life just got too busy and (as usually happens when I skip a month) the can kept getting kicked down the road until I ran out of days. Part of the reason was that the end of March was spent in Bordeaux and although I could have gone full digital nomad and blogged from a cafe, I was too busy seeing the sights and enjoying the wonderful food and drink! 

Back to this month's pylon, which I snapped whilst on the bus back to Bordeaux airport. If I'd woken up, unsure of where I was, then the pylon design would have alerted me to the fact that I wasn't in the UK. Sadly, however, my knowledge of French pylon design is close to non-existent, but the French Wikipedia page (Pylône électrique) revealed some intriguingly named designs, including Le pylône Chat and most intriguingly of all, Le pylône électrique Mae West (see below). I get the cat vibe with the upwards protrusions at either end looking a bit like ears, but the mind boggles with Mae West. For those readers unfamiliar with mid-twentieth century movie stars, she was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ".....a U.S. film actress and entertainer (1892–1980), noted for her large bust". According to Wikipedia, during World War II, Allied aircrews called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vests" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso. I'm struggling a bit with a pylon's resemblance to her and neither am I confident about whether the one I snapped is a Chat or a Mae West, or for that matter whether the Mae West is a sub-genre of the Chat. That's the problem with Pylon of the Month; almost every time I write a post I end up with more questions than answers. Perhaps any fans of the website working in the French electricity sector will be able to help!

Schéma_du_Pylône_électrique_chat

Le pylône Chat, or is it the Le pylône électrique Mae West?

 


Pylon of the Month - February 2022

Pylon1

It was a dry January on the pylon front; a mixture of busyness and never quite getting round to choosing a pylon to write about. For February I thought I would feature plenty of pylons to make up for this and so here are two columns of them marching across the Welsh countryside. To be more specific, they are marching across the Gwent levels and were sent in by someone who listened to the online talk I gave last year courtesy of The Living Levels Landscape Partnership. It’s an organisation which “aims to reconnect people and communities to the Gwent Levels landscape and provide a sustainable future for this historic and unique area”.

According to the Visit Wales website:

The Gwent Levels are an inter-tidal zone of saltmarshes, mudflats and sands, revealed to keen eyes at low tide along the northern coastline of the Severn Estuary. The low horizon, flat landscape, and big skies (often enhanced by dramatic cloudscapes, sunrises and sunsets) give the Levels a unique ethereal quality.

The area has a number of power stations including the fairly new 800 MW CCGT Severn power station built on the footprint of the former coal-fired Uskmouth A which closed in 1981 and was demolished in 2002. Another CCGT power station (even bigger at 1140 MW), Seabank, is on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel. Close to this, at 1,618 m is the longest overhead power line crossing in he UK, the Aust- Severn crossing which has featured twice before on the blog in May 2014 and April 2018.

As well as the picture at the top of this article, the email also contained a number of other pictures of which my favourite was the one below. That’s all for this month, but 2022 has lots of great pylons in the pipeline so come back for more soon.

Pylon2


Pylon of the Month - December 2021

IMG_20211219_120146_edit_157184021415076

December's Pylon of the Month was chosen on the spur of the moment during a walk with my Dad around Jumbles, Wayoh, and Entwistle reservoirs in the run-up to Christmas. It was a flying visit back to the area where I grew up and it would have been difficult to pick a better day for a December walk; cold, clear and amazingly windless. I've done the walk a number of times before, but all in the days BP (Before Pylons) when their presence wouldn't have caught my eye. A quick look at the Open Infrastructure Map tells that it is probably a pylon on the 132 kV line running north from Bolton's Union Road substation. 

The pylon is in Greater Manchester, but when I write to my Dad, I still use 'Lancashire' as part of the address even though it hasn't technically been part of the county since 1974 when boundary changes removed Liverpool and Manchester as well as their surrounding conurbations. This identification with Lancashire is noted on Wikipedia:

Many of these places still identify strongly with the county, particularly in areas of Greater Manchester (such as Oldham and Bury) where Lancashire is still used as part of the postal address.

Reading the Lancashire Wikipedia also led me down a bit of a rabbit hole. The original and much larger Lancashire was a County Palatine. This was news to me in that I had never heard of such a thing. It turns out that:

In England, Wales and Ireland a county palatine or palatinate was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom or empire.

With Christmas preparations to finish, I couldn't afford to get sucked too deeply into the rabbit hole but I did find out that the Dukedom of Lancaster is an extinct peerage that lives on as the Duchy of Lancaster because the reigning monarch subsumed the Dukedom. From there I was led to the idea of Bona Vacantia on the Duchy of Lancaster website:

In English law, title to property must belong to, or ‘vest in’, an identifiable person or body. No property or goods are permitted to be ‘ownerless’. If legal ownership cannot be established by anyone else, it falls to the Crown to deal with the assets concerned. Such property or goods are known as ‘bona vacantia‘.

At that point, I decided that I had ventured too far from a pylon on a 132 kV line and stopped. Merry Christmas to pylon fans everywhere.