This month work started on replacing the main electricity supply cable into Derby. The route goes from near the old power station at Willington, through to the centre of Derby.
The main substation for much of Derby is by the Silk Mill and Cathedral Green. The main power station for Derby used to be here too. One of the few reminders of the power station is the timing of Sunday services – both at the cathedral and at the Quaker meeting on St Helen’s Street. These still start at 10:45, avoiding the noise disruption as the coal was tipped in to feed the furnaces raising steam for the power station.
Decades ago the power station was closed, but around half of Derby still has its electricity supplied from the adjacent substation. This gets its power through a cable installed nearly 50 years ago from outside the city.
This main 132kV feed to the substation needs to be replaced before it fails. 42,000 households do not want to be left in the dark! While we see such cables slung across the countyside on pylons, within the city they are generally underground.
Utility companies, like Western Power Distribution who are responsible for the electricity network in Derby, are allowed to dig up our highways to install their equipment – in this case ducting and cables. They have to liaise with the council about how and when they do this, and the council seeks to co-ordinate works, when it can, to minimise disruption.
This project is a big one, planning to take around 18 months. The route from Willington goes through Heatherton and Littleover, along Kingsway and in along Ashbourne Road to reach the substation via Cathedral Road.
Work is being done in stages with eight parallel ductings being installed in sections and the trenches backfilled. Then the conductors will be fed through these in long lengths, and each length jointed together.
This may be a big project for Derby, but it is just one of many for the country. Functionally this is basically a like for like replacement, but many projects of this size it will be required to redesign our electricity network to make is suitable for the future.
As the UK and other countries cut their carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, electricity will no longer be generated at coal-fired power stations on the outskirts of cities. Instead it will have to come from renewable sources, like wind, tide and solar. Some of these will be major sources, but many more will be small contributions to our total needs – like the PVs on our roof.
What will be the biggest challenge? I think it may be ensuring that we have enough people with the academic and technical skill to design and install – and maintain – this new network. Electrical power engineering would seem to be a good career to choose!