How Dartmouth Works – How We Get Our Energy
You walk into your kitchen in the evening, switch on a light, turn on the radio and then light your gas hob to cook your evening meal (assuming that is you’re not in Kingswear in which you grimace again at the cost of oil!).
All done without a thought – but that sequence of events is only possible thanks to a massive network of power stations and high voltage power cables, pipelines carrying millions of cubic metres of gas, substations and compressor stations.
It’s a miracle, and one which is very precarious, in our energy conscious world.
Gas comes into the country from the North Sea, via pipelines from Holland and Belgium, or as Liquefied Natural Gas by container ship at Milford Haven (which was built by Samuel Lake, who was from Dartmouth, and gives his name to Lake Street), Teeside and the Isle of Grain.
After being treated and checked for purity and its energy content, the gas enters the National Grids network of pipes. They pump the gas around the country to where it is needed. Its miles of piping carry gas at up to 1,200psi (remember your car tyre will be around 25-30psi). A 50-mile section of pipeline operating at about 1,000psi contains about 200 million cubic feet of gas - enough to power your cooker for more than 2,000 years.
The gas travels around the system thanks to 23 pumping or compressor stations which give the gas the energy it needs to get around. The nearest one to the South Hams is in Exeter.
As the gas comes into the regions, local distributors take over and get the gas to us in our homes– in the South West, our gas distributor is Wales & West Utilities Ltd.
They use local compressor stations to pump the gas into our towns and down the streets into our homes – they use high quality and incredibly strong pipes to bring the gas into our homes and through the meter, which is how we get access to it.
Gas pipes require a huge amount of maintenance and care – gas explosions can and have been devastating, and subsequently maintenance is vitally important to the distribution companies.
Victoria Road will be dug up this Autumn for a major new gas main to be laid. If you get annoyed by the delays remember how you’d feel if there were no gas for you to cook with or to heat your home with in winter – I know which one I’d choose.
South Devon is one of the lowest consumers of gas in the country for individual use.
The National Grid has no storage for power. I’ll say that again: the National Grid has no storage for the electricity it generates.
This means it has to generate it as we need it, and LOTS of planning is needed to make sure we don’t suddenly have blackouts. Remember how hard it is to function in a power cut? If the boys at the national The main indication they use for power surges and peaks of demand is television – so the men in suits in London have to know when X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are having their finals, or it could all go dark!
Near to Dartmouth we have two gas power stations in Plymouth and Exeter, and a water driven hydro dam on Dartmoor. The Hinkley Point B Nuclear Power Station is near Bridgewater too.
From the power stations, 400Kilovolts of electricity (for those who don’t remember from school, a simple way to think about the electricity terms is using the analogy of water in a pipe: Amps would be the speed of the water, volts the water pressure) run along large pylons. They are then ‘transformed’ using a series of substations, from 400Kv to 132kv, then to 33kv, and then to 11kv at your local substation.
Dartmouth’s substation is opposite Lidls shop. It then travels either over or under the ground (rather like the Wombles) through wires at either 415 or 230v depending on the capacity of the wires going into your home – the wires lead into your home through your electricity meter.
It is hoped that soon innovative storage systems will be brought in to ensure that the whole country is not living on such an energy knife edge, but until then we depend on the cleverness of the energy planners who ensure the right amount of electricity is produced all day, every day.
First Published September 2011 By The Dart