Can water keep the UK's electricity grid stable?
Curriculum: KS3 Physics, Fuels and energy sources. KS4 Chemistry (England).
When reviewing the interesting year that was 2020 experts now think of it as the greenest year for electricity in Britain!
As well as the increase in renewable power systems (such as wind and solar) operating and a high number of coal-free days, part of the reason for 2020 being so green was due to the Drax’s Cruachan hydroelectric pumped storage plant that won a tender to provide inertia to National Grid from one of its four units. Inertia helps to keep the electricity system correctly balanced by running at the right frequency, reducing the potential of potentially serious power cuts.
The Cruachan plant is buried deep in the hollowed out mountain of Ben Cruachan, near Argyll in Scotland. The plant was opened about 55 years ago and was a massive success story in engineering!
It is an amazingly impressive structure that acts like a giant battery to store the water for when it is needed. Its reversible turbines pump water from a Loch to fill an upper reservoir on the mountainside at times when there is low demand for electricity and the opposite when demand is high.
A career in engineering opens a whole new world of possibilities. As Cruachan shows, it can even move mountains!
- 220,000 cubic metres of rock was blasted by explosives to create a cavern 1km inside the mountain that houses the turbines as well as a network of pipes and tunnels!
- Inertia behaves a bit like the shock absorbers in a car suspension, which dampen the effect of a sudden bump in the road and keep the car stable and moving forward.
This news story was suggested by Erusa, Education Officer for Kent.