Pylons

Pylon of the Month - August 2021

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August's pylon is from North America, a part of the world that hasn't featured too often on the blog and when it has, Californian pylons from San Francisco and  Orange County were the main attraction. This time, we head further up the west coast to the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. The pylon enthusiast who sent the image also shared the exact location of where it was taken. https://goo.gl/maps/tJr2qJKFHCbHu and even noted that:

"If you use Google's satellite layer, you can actually see the pylons lying on their side! kinda crazy - I only just saw this now when looking it up"

It is odd that the fallen pylons have been left in situ. It looks like a single pylon that has broken into three parts, but was it damaged and replaced once the line was operational or is it a failed pylon that never made it into active service? Do let me know if you have the answer to this question.........
 
The transmission lines carried by the pylons come from the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides about 25% of Seattle's electricity. In fact, hydropower is the biggest source of energy in Washington State which is at the forefront of efforts to decarbonise electricity generation as the chart below shows. 
 
Chart
 
A recent article from Forbes, Washington State’s Approaching Energy Crisis – Good Intentions Gone Wrong?, looks at this policy and claims:
 
The trouble stems from attempts to decarbonize our society. Getting rid of coal, oil and gas in generating electricity is the low-hanging fruit, but just getting rid of them without a realistic plan to replace them can do more harm than good.
 
It is a problem that the UK will also have to grapple with as we aim to hit our net zero target by 2050.
 
Anyhow, this picture was taken on the way to a walk by the Boulder River in the North Cascades. It looks fabulous and should I ever make it to Washington State I will surely do the walk after stopping to pay my respects to the fallen pylon. That's all for this month, although if your appetite for pylons in Washington State has been whetted, then you're in luck! Category:Electricity pylons in Washington (state)
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - July 2021

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June was busy, so busy that it was a pylonless month, but on a walk in the Chilterns at the start of July this pylon caught my eye and it now has the privilege of being July's Pylon of the Month. It's just outside Great Missenden, a lovely town with many literary links. Roald Dahl lived here from 1954 until his death in 1990 and if I'd had more time, I would have visited the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre because I have so many happy memories of his wonderful stories, both as a child myself and also as books I read aloud to my own children. My favourite? A toss up between Danny Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach. Anyway, David Cornwell (John Le Carré) lived there when his first book, Call for the Dead, was published and Robert Louis Stephenson spent a night at the Red Lion pub in 1874. Sadly the pub is now closed (it's now an estate agent) but you can see a few images of it courtesy of the Lost Pubs Project.

Enough local interest and back to the pylon. It caught my eye for two reasons. One was the mobile phone antennae attached to it, the other (as pointed out to me by the friend with whom I was walking) was the different insulator discs on the left and right of the pylon. For more about how mobile phone coverage works you Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information. I was intrigued by the different insulators on each side of the pylon so asked for information on Twitter as @pylonofthemonth.

Pylon1

Pylon2

A quick check on the Open Infrastructure map confirmed that it is the 400 kV line mentioned by @IanBottomer and as a result of asking the question on Twitter I know more about reconductoring transmission lines. As do you, if you've made it this far. If that's left you hungry for more, here's a video showing live line reconductoring. That's all for now - see you in August!


Pylon of the Month - May 2021

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Over the last year, travel has been severely restricted for pretty much everyone so it seems fitting that May's Pylon of the Month comes from within walking distance of my house. The picture was taken by a colleague in West Oxford close to Binsey lane, a road that leads from Port Meadow to the Botley Road. Fans of His Dark Materials might be interested to know that Binsey lane features in chapter 11 of The Secret Commonwealth, the second novel in the Book of Dust trilogy. This part of Oxford is ideal for walking, with the added advantage of an excellent pub, The Perch, quite close to the pylon. Next time the weather is set fair on a Sunday, what better way to spend a few hours than a walk around Port Meadow followed by a pint and a pylon.

I like a lot of things about this picture, but even I've got to admit that it clashes somewhat with the idyllic water meadows and dreaming spires that might be conjured up when thinking of Oxford. It's that contrast, however that draws me in and this zone where city and countryside fray into one another is explored in an excellent book, Edgelands, by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.

The wilderness is much closer than you think. Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands - those familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside - have become the great wild places on our doorsteps. In the same way the Romantic writers taught us to look at hills, lakes and rivers, poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts write about mobile masts and gravel pits, business parks and landfill sites, taking the reader on a journey to marvel at these richly mysterious, forgotten regions in our midst.

According this review of the book in the Guardian, the zone goes

"....by different names, few of them complimentary. Victor Hugo called it "bastard countryside". The landscape theorist Alan Berger called it "drosscape". The artist Philip Guston called it "crapola".

Given how close this pylon is to genuinely lovely countryside that's perhaps a bit harsh, but enough of the peripheral, let's discuss the pylon itself.  Long time readers and pylonophiles will have already spotted that it's a terminator pylon and in this case its at the end of the 132 kV line which starts further West in Witney and makes its way to Oxford via Farmoor reservoir. At this point, the voltage will be stepped down to a lower voltage to run either underground or on lower voltage overhead lines to a further network of substations. I'll go and investigate the next time I'm in the vicinity and I'll be sure to have a copy of Edgelands with me to read in the pub afterwards.


Pylon of the Month - February 2021

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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