Pylon of the Month

Pylon of the Month - February 2021

Pyloncrop

February's pylon comes all the way from Melbourne, Australia and was taken during August last year in the suburb of Park Orchards, some 17 km from the city centre. It really is a stunning photograph that captures the night sky beautifully in a 5-second exposure shot at ISO 2000 with a 14mm f2.8 prime lens and Canon full frame camera. Details like that in the email to which the photograph was attached tell me that this was taken by an accomplished photographer and you can verify that for yourself by going to Instagram @pk____photography. The email continued:

"Since we are presently in Covid lockdown here in Melbourne and can't go more than 5km from home, my photographic opportunities are limited. We did have a fairly clear night recently with a new moon, so I thought I would try this shot to contrast human vs cosmic power"

Increase in astronomy has increased significantly during lockdown and for any UK pylon fans looking to learn more, I would highly recommend the Society for Popular Astronomy.

One of the great things about writing this blog is that the pylons I post lead me down interesting internet highways and byways and I always learn something new. In this case, a quick look at the fascinating 'Guide to Australia’s Energy Networks', led me to the discovery that Australia has some 500 kV overhead lines as part of the transmission network (compared to the UK where we only go up to 400 kV). A bit more digging led me to Moorabool Shire Council's September 2020 'Comparison of 500 kV Overhead Lines with 500 kV Underground Cables' which is part of the Western Victoria Renewable Integration Project whose aim is:

to address transmission network limitations.....the driver and benefits of this Project are to unlock up to 6GW of renewable energy sources, predominantly wind and solar generation, in North West of Victoria.

Reading on (it really is quite a fascinating report.....) led me to the discovery that Ultra High Voltage (UHV) AC power transmission is defined as 500 kV or over. The UK's 400 kV lines are merely EHV (Extra High Voltage) and I assumed this was because the distances over which we have to transmit electricity in the UK are considerably shorter than in larger countries.  The countries that are currently operating transmission network at UHV levels are Ukraine and Poland at 750 kV, South Korea at 765 kV, Brazil at 800 kV, China, Japan and Russia at 1,000 kV, with India is currently conducting experiments and planning for a transmission network at 1,200 kV. That theory about UHV corresponding to longer transmission distances holds up in some cases, but a quick Google tells me that that the UK is 144% larger than South Korea. More work is required here at some point because when I Googled "UHV South Korea" I was met by a wall of information and if I'd dived down that internet rabbit hole I might not have emerged for some time.

The Moorabool Sire Council report also includes this moving picture ( amongst others) of a fallen 500 kV pylon, felled in its prime by a storm in January 2020.

Capture

The conclusion of the report includes this assessment:

A feasible alternative to the proposed 500 kV double circuit overhead line would be 500 kV double circuit underground cable. Whilst this would be approximately ten times more expensive than an overhead line, the overall cost impact could be reduced by placing only the most sensitive sections underground. Although using underground cable for a portion of the route is not a simple solution it appears to be technically feasible.

Plenty to chew on there for the next few weeks so that's all for this month. See you in March!

 


Pylon of the Month - January 2021

IMG_20210117_131859

The first pylon of 2021 comes from Boars Hill just outside Oxford and was sent to me by a friend after a walk with his wife during the recent cold snap.  The hoar frost on the hedge and the fog1 made for a wonderfully atmospheric scene that can surely only have been enhanced by the pylon's presence. Boars Hill is a beautiful area for a walk if you are in the Oxford area and was where Matthew Arnold was inspired to write Thyrsis, the poem in which the famous lines that have come to define one misty-eyed2 perspective of Oxford.

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires

She needs not June for beauty's heightening

It is clear from the pylon design (PL16?) that this is a 132 kV line and a quick check of the Open Infrastructure Map confirmed this and also showed the lower voltage lines that you can see in the foreground of the picture. In the UK, three phase supply on wooden poles is usually either 11 kV or 33 kV but sadly, the map doesn't specify the voltage on such lowly lines. Interestingly, the 132 kV tower only seems to have a single circuit (3 lines - one for each phase) with two lines on one side of the tower and the third on the opposite side. I'm not sure why so I'll seek out the answer when I tweet this out as @pylonofthemonth

For more about Boars Hill, the Oxford Preservation Trust website is wonderfully informative.  The literary links to the area are legion, with four Poets Laureate having lived there; Robert Bridges, John Masefield, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden. Elizabeth Daryush, the daughter of Robert Bridges, was also a noted poet and the garden of her house on Boars Hill is managed by the Oxford Preservation Trust. A visit there would be just the ticket for any pylon fans with a literary bent.

 

  1. I was going to call it mist until I looked up the difference and according to The Met Office, it turns out to be fog because you can see less than 1,000 metres.
  2. Foggy-eyed just doesn't work here.

 

 


Thumbnail_P1440367 A forest of pylons on the approach to Minster

October's Pylon of the Month is a readers' choice. Look at the amazing image and the "three parallel parades of pylons" as the fan who sent the picture in called them in a pleasingly alliterative phrase. Once you've looked for long enough to appreciate the beauty of the image, choose the one you want to be your own personal pylon of the month - I'm avoiding the obvious 132 kV choices in the foreground and going for the 400 kV wide boy on the far right of the picture with two lines on one cross arm.  Why it's constructed like that is something that I'd like to find out more about.

The pylons can be found in the fields between the villages of Plucks Gutter and Minster.  The hamlet of Plucks Gutter is, according to Wikipedia:

..named after a Dutch Drainage Engineer called Ploeg, whose grave is in All Saints Church, West Stourmouth. Ploeg, being the Dutch for a plough, the hamlet takes its origins from the Dutch Protestant tradition of draining marshland by creating a ploughed ditch

In this era of fake news, I'll mention that the Wikipedia page notes that a citation is needed to substantiate this story and as this note was made in September 2016 and no verification has been added, caution is needed if you are ever tempted to hold forth at a party about the origin of place names in Kent.

The fan who sent the picture spotted them whilst walking the Augustine Camino, a new pilgrimage route in Kent from Rochester to Ramsgate.  A quick look at the open infrastructure map for the area shows the parallel lines very clearly with the 400 kV Richborough connection in purple and two 132 kV lines (Canterbury North - Richborough and Richborough - Monkton). 

Pylon

It also shows Richborough power station which closed in 1996, although the national grid interconnector from the original power station is still in place, and is now the grid link for the offshore Thanet wind farm. The 1000 MW HVDC from Belgium also makes landfall on the site and is known as the Nemo link.  As a Physics teacher, High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) is pretty high up the list of things that I want to understand better and this article from the Powermag website looks like a good starting point.  The icing on the electrical cake is a couple of nearby solar farms - plenty to see if you fancy a pylon field trip to the area.  I certainly do - Kent is one of the areas of the UK that I know least about so I'll add it to my growing list of things to do once normality returns.

 


Pylon of the Month - September 2020

IMG_20200831_110514

September's Pylon of the Month is a bit of a retro photograph that I took myself on a Holga camera which is a "true cult classic of analogue photography" according to this Lomography website. I'm still experimenting with it as you can see from the fact that the image above includes part of the preceding and following frames and I decided to keep that in the (probably vain) hope that it would look a bit more arty and experimental.

Anyway, the picture is of the Cowley substation near Oxford (and Didcot power station) where the 400 kV lines from Didcot get stepped down to 132 kV.  The marvellous 'High Voltage Substations in the United Kingdom' is your go to source for information if you are looking for something similar in your part of the UK.  The Electrical Engineering Portal tells us that High voltage substations

are points in the power system where power can be pooled from generating sources, distributed and transformed, and delivered to the load points. Substations are interconnected with each other so that the power system becomes a meshed network. This increases the reliability of the power supply system by providing alternate paths for flow of power to take care of any contingency so that power delivery to the loads is maintained and the generators do not face any outage.

I particularly like the busbars that can be seen in the background and they give the picture a futuristic vibe. As you approach the site, the contrast to the green fields sloping down to the nearby River Thames is particularly striking.  The Cowley substation has also been in the news recently because it the site for the largest hybrid battery ever deployed. The 50 MW battery will power a 10 km network of electric vehicle charge points. This energy superhub is needed to support the more widespread use of electric vehicles and the charging points they will need in Oxford. It should be completed by 2022.

 


Pylon of the Month - May 2020

Untitled picture

After a pylonless April, I decided that May should be a pylon picture that I had taken myself rather than one of the many sent in regularly by fans of the website.  Near where I live a few miles south of Oxford is part of the National Cycle Route 5.  A mile or so north along the (newly improved) route from Sandford Lock you pass within a few metres of the beauty in the foreground of the photograph acting as a frame for the next two pylons in the line.  You can pause and admire the size and scale of it from up close (and underneath for that matter) before you continue alongside the River Thames to Oxford.  Look more carefully at the picture however and you will see that there are four pylons and this whole area is a pylon rich environment because of the proximity of Didcot Power Station.  If it's a hot day and you decide to cool off in the river as part of your day out, be careful about taking a dip without being aware of a nearby hazard.

Sandford Lasher, or weir, is on the left bank well upstream of Sandford Lock. The pool below the weir has been notorious since the 19th century because of the number of individuals who have drowned there.

Despite having lived there for 16 years, I'd never heard of it before but it's famous enough for the J. Paul Getty Museum to have a photograph from 1872 in their collection.

I'm not as good at identifying the different pylon designs as I should be, but I think these are L6 pylons but I would be delighted to be corrected if I'm wrong.  This page from Flash Bristow's website is a good place to start if you want to know more about the different kinds of pylons. A quick check confirms that it is on a 400 kV line as shown on the open infrastructure map, another excellent source of information about the electricity transmission network in the UK.  At the nearby Cowley sub-station, the 400 kV line gets stepped down to a number of 132 kV lines and another rich source of information about sub-stations in the UK is the Wikipedia page on High Voltage substations in the United Kingdom.  So there you have it for another month; local history, a dash of culture courtesy of a Los Angeles museum and arcane technical information about pylons and electricity transmission networks.  Come back for more next month!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pylon of the Month - March 2020

South

March was slipping away, but like an awful lot of people, I find myself spending more time at home and so there really is no excuse not to get writing.  Normal life may be suspended for a lot of us at the moment, but the people working at power stations are vital and so their work goes on as, I'm sure, does the work of anyone working on the electricity distribution system.  They deserve our grateful thanks.
 
March's pylon was sent in by a fan of the website earlier this month after he was distracted on an early morning run near the River Tyne.  The pylon above is on the south side of the river, but there was also a picture of the pylon on the north bank which I've included at the foot of this post.  They are wonderfully atmospheric images and I'm afraid that I can't resist the urge to include a link to Fog on the Tyne by Lindisfarne, the English folk rock band from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
 
The email that I received also included the revelation that: 
 
.....as a former electricity network company (Northern Powergrid) employee and long-term energy networks geek, I have only recently discovered your pylon of the month page, and am disappointed that I have been missing out for so long!
 
I'm delighted to welcome another pylon fan into the fold.  The email went on to say that "This is not far from the Stella North and Stella South GSPs". For those not in the electricity distribution game (me included - thank you Google), GSP is an acronym for Grid Supply Point and is a "Systems Connection Point at which the Transmission System is connected to a Distribution System". I'm not sure that I'm too much the wiser as a result of having looked it up, but as a result of doing so I did discover that Stella North and Stella South were two power stations that have now been demolished.   Stella South, a coal-fired 300 MW power station, was built on the site of the famous Blaydon races which gives me an excuse for another musical interlude.  It has been replaced by a housing estate.
 
That's all for now, although with only a week of March left, you won't have to wait too long for another pylon.  Until then, stay safe.
 
 
North (1)
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - February 2020

IMG_2399

After a dry January on the pylon front (but not on the alcohol front....), February's pylon is a cracker. As with so many of the pictures on the blog, it was provided by a fan of the website and the email that accompanied the picture is an inspiration to pylon fans everywhere.
 
We've always had a fascination with pylons, living on a farm as kids we'd often walk out into the fields and stand under them and marvel. 
 
The picture was taken near the village of Claxton in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire.  My only visit to that area was nearly 25 years ago and a bit of Googling led me to the place I stayed; The White Swan in Pickering.  It was easy to track down because just about the only thing I remembered about the stay was the great selection of St. Emillion wines.  It's good to see that nothing has changed in the intervening years on the wine front!
 
Anyway back to the pylons and to the information provided by the photographer.
 
Two high voltage power lines cross paths, and in order to allow one to pass under the other a large pylon has been constructed for one power line, while the other power line has been split into two smaller pylons that pass under the higher power line. 
 
Then there is a lyrical passage that will surely elicit nods of recognition from readers of this blog.
 
I think there is a beauty to this structure. Firstly in a mathematical sense, the symmetry of this arrangement of the pylons and the geometric shapes constructing the individual objects. But also in the sense of how these gentle giants contrast so heavily with their natural surroundings but managed to blend in so unnoticed by so many as if they were simply trees that had always been there. There's also the fact that these objects hold such importance to everyday life, and that hours upon hours of thought will of gone into the placement and design of this structure at the hands of engineers - only for them to peacefully blend away to the countryside: noticed by only a few.
 
Prompted by the mention of the word symmetry above, I'll finish for this month with a hiveminer generated collection of beautiful symmetrical pylon images.  
 
Pylons
 
 
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - December 2019

Pylon (1) (1)

December's pylon of the month is another first for the blog as the observant amongst you will already have spotted.  It is an absence of pylon or a pylon of the imagination, at least in the picture above.  I spotted it on Twitter recently where it was posted by @geospacedman with the following description:

Contrails? No, electricity cables backlit by building works lights over the hill. I think there's a pylon in this shot but invisible.

For those who are not satisfied with the power of their imagination and want to see it in real life, you need to head to the cycle path from Lancaster University into Lancaster.  It's the transmission line through the middle of this map below looking west towards the pylon just over the railway line.  
 
According to Susan Hill in this Guardian article, ghost stories fulfil a basic human need and as the author of the very scary Woman in Black, she should know.  I'm looking at this picture and already thinking of long demolished pylons that reappear on certain nights when strange happen in the local vicinity.  I'm thinking of a quiet misty night, walking home alone when the buzzing noise that you get from pylon lines in damp weatheris heard as a warning of approaching death; a kind of electrical banshee.  Need I go on?  Perhaps you are already looking at the picture above, feeling a shiver run down your spine and swearing never to walk alone near pylon lines in the dark.  Then again perhaps not.  
 
Merry Christmas to Pylon fans everywhere and see you again in 2020.  If you can't wait until then, you could always invest in one of these lovely Christmas tree decorations.
 
Capture
 
1.  That sound has a name, according to BC Hydro specialist engineer Mazana Armstrong.  Corona, Latin for crown, is the name for the luminous "crown" of tiny sparks that can, very rarely, be visible around equipment such as power lines and insulators. It's this crown that causes the occasional buzzing and crackling that you can hear....."Water droplets like rain, snow, or even fog and mist, help speed the electrical breakdown of the air particles, making the corona louder and easier to hear," she says.

Pylon of the Month - November 2019

Thumbnail_IMG_20191128_101404

October slipped by without a pylon and November was in grave danger of going the same way until two things happened.  One was a comment on the blog asking when the next pylon was going to be posted and the other was a visit to Geneva where I saw this beauty.  But it wasn't just Geneva, this pylon is actually inside the cathedral of physics that is the 'Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire' or CERN as it is know all over the world.  As a Physics teacher this is about as good as it gets and so how could I possibly resist.

CERN uses quite a lot of electricity when it is up and running:

At peak consumption, usually from May to mid-December, CERN uses about 200 megawatts of power, which is about a third of the amount of energy used to feed the nearby city of Geneva in Switzerland.

The annual electricity bill is about €60 million but about 90% of this is linked to the operation of the accelerators and at the moment, the Large Hadron Collider, is shut down for maintenance and upgrade work so there whoever has the job of feeding coins into the electricity meter must be having an easy life.

Wert

This second long shutdown (LS2) is due to be completed by early summer 2020.  Until about March visiting CERN is definitely worth the effort as you can get underground and look around in a wat that just isn't possible when everything is up and running.  Get there whilst you can!


Pylon of the Month - September 2019

Image-12

This month's pylon is from Italy and will be particularly appreciated by pylon fans of a bibulous disposition. It was sent in by a fan of the website and was taken in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy.  In particular,  the vineyards of Barbaresco, and according to wine-searcher:

Barbaresco is one of the great wines of the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. Historically it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco (Nebbiolo being the grape it's made from) and was used by the Austrian General Melas to celebrate his victory over the French in 1799.

Such is the beauty and distinctiveness of this part of the world, that in 2014 it was recognised as a World Heritage Site because '......the Piedmont vineyards provide outstanding living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking traditions that stem from a long history, and that have been continuously improved and adapted up to the present day'.

So pylon fans heading for this part of the world can tick off the rather splendid asymmetric pylons in the vineyard before retiring to a bar to sample the local wine.  In doing so, it would be wise to ensure that the difference between the two local wines Barolo and Barbaresco is properly appreciated.  

The main difference in Barolo and Barbaresco is in the soils. The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and, because of this, the vines don’t produce as much tannin as found in the wines of Barolo. Both wines smell of roses, perfume and cherry sauce — and they both have a very long finish. The difference is in the taste on the mid-palate; the tannin won’t hit you quite as hard in the Barbaresco.

The quote above is from wine folly and with plenty of wine recommendations to try out, oenophile pylon fans will be in heaven.