back to article Inside Electric Mountain: Britain's biggest rechargeable battery

From the outside, Elidir Mountain looks like an old industrial site that has returned to nature. The slopes facing the Llyn Peris reservoir have been hacked into terraces by slate quarrying – this was once the second-biggest quarry in the world, with 3,000 workers – but they are now peaceful. Only a few buildings at ground …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very worthwhile tour that one. Some very impressive engineering!

    Photos never give the scale justice!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have my summer house at a similar facility

      My summer house in Eastern Europe is at a similar facility built at about the same time. Bigger too. In fact big enough to be one of the primary elements in balancing the grid so you do not burn expensive gas to compensate for spikes.

      There is a different way of looking at the Electric Mountain - it is a sad testament of what we could achieve if it was not for the misconceived NIMBY and "historical preservation" attitude. Historically, the Lake District in its current form was created in the 18th and 19th century to provide the industry in the North of England with energy and water for all the metal works. It is not a natural feature (at least most of it).

      It could and should have been converted into one giant hydro-accumulation facility - a giant Electric Mountain. If it did, the UK would have balanced the grid without resorting to any gas burning. This would have fit its original purpose too. However, anyone daring to harbor such thoughts is likely to see a lynch mob carrying National Trust membership cards within 15 minutes after speaking it out in public.

      1. Rob Daglish

        Re: I have my summer house at a similar facility

        AC, I'll have two of whatever you're smoking. I think

        "Historically, the Lake District in its current form was created in the 18th and 19th century"

        is a slight overstatement - yes, Thirlmere, Haweswater and Simpson ground were for Manchester, Kentmere was for mills in Kendal, and there are two other reservoirs, but there are over 60 bodies of water that were nothing to do with mankind - or did the 18th/19th century mill owners send steam-punk robots back in time to use glaciers to carve out the lake district for them?

      2. Scorchio!!

        Re: I have my summer house at a similar facility

        "My summer house in Eastern Europe is[...]"

        I fooz to 'spond to this obvus troool.

      3. RegGuy1

        Re: I have my summer house at a similar facility

        Good point. And it always rains there too -- even when it doesn't rain anywhere else!

        Upvote from me.

        (Good luck to all the downvoters who want to preserve the country in aspic. We will become even more of a has-been than we are now.)

      4. John Hughes

        Re: I have my summer house at a similar facility

        My summer house in Eastern Europe is at a similar facility built at about the same time. Bigger too.

        Where? The Wikipedia page for pumped storage only gives 7 bigger installations than Dinorwig, in France, China, Japan and the US.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: I have my summer house at a similar facility

          @ John Hughes

          I was wondering about it too.

          From:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pumped-storage_hydroelectric_power_stations

          Perhaps this in Ukraine, started long ago.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dniester_Pumped_Storage_Power_Station

          "While only 3 are currently operational, the power station will contain 7 324 MW reversible Francis turbine generators. Its installed capacity will be 2,268 MW when generating and during pumping". (In 2017).

          And not that surprisingly "The first use of pumped storage was in the 1890s in Italy and Switzerland." you need a mountain after all.

    2. lsces

      And it's a useful 'backup' for a wet day on a holiday in that corner of Wales. did it a few years back on an early season break ... which was somewhat damp :)

      1. TRT Silver badge

        A wet day in Wales...

        you're better off holding a trip to Harlech or Aberystwyth beach in reserve just in case you get a dry day.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: A wet day in Wales...

          just in case you get a dry day.

          Dry day's in Blaenau Ffestiniog are something to celebrate...

    3. Gary Heard

      Photos never give the scale justice!

      I was lucky enough to go to Electric Mountain in a work related capacity. I still have a hand drawn diagram of the way it works and a (very) professional document detailing what the generators are capable of. The turbine hall sports 2 X 200T overhead cranes that have to be used in tandem to remove a turbine (weighing 350T).

      It is also one of the grids "Black Start" power stations, used to restore the grid if there is a regional or national blackout. The generation of the AC phase (50Hz) is very precise as other stations coming on need to be "pulled" into phase by the reference station.

      Fantastic bit of kit and amazing engineering

    4. AlbertH
      Happy

      An Amazing Childhood Experience

      I remember being taken to see that station during its construction. My Father's friend was one of the Project Engineers, so he was able to show us around. I still remember being awestruck at the sheer size of the artificial cavern that they had created!

      Truly amazing!

    5. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Photos never give the scale justice!

      Neither do they give any idea of the sound and vibration changes when those inlet valves open...

      Definitely worth a visit, plus the cafe at the visitor centre (where you start and end your tour) is reasonable.

    6. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      I went there as a kid (my dad's a sparky so he liked going of tours of various power stations, from hydro to nuke and everything in-between) and the generating hall is just something else. It just looks on a scale that seems outrageously wrong, that something so massive could be hidden underground.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "It just looks on a scale that seems outrageously wrong, that something so massive could be hidden underground."

        I just couldn't help humming Hall of the Mountain King while in there :-)

        Also, anyone planning a visit, if you go too early or late in the season and want to ride the train up Snowdon, you might not get all the way. The snow might still be blocking the tracks to the terminus well after what we lesser folks might think of as a beautiful warm late spring day.

    7. bazza Silver badge

      Worrying signs

      I went here many, many years ago, a very good tour, but at the time none of the turbines were running.

      I went a couple of years ago, same very good tour, but now one of the turbines was actually running before our very eyes.

      Curious, I asked why. It wasn't FA cup half time or anything, so why was it running?

      The answer was quite worrying. We're so short of generating capacity that the grid will even buy Electric Mountain's very expensive electricity on a regular basis during normal daylight hours to add a little more to the grid. Of course they can't run all the turbines continuously (hence just one running), and the water still has to be pumped back up again at night.

      But no longer is the place purely a way of meeting peek demand. It's meeting normal demand conditions too.

      We're paying a huge price in this country (bills, economic output) in chasing such a large proportion of renewables. No one wants to build and run a trusty coal / gas / oil plant because it's hard to make money out of it given that the renewables get their electricity bought first (or worse, paid to not operate at all). No one is paying the coal / gas / oil guys enough money to be there for us on standby for that cold, damp, cloudy and windless day in the middle of winter.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Worrying signs

        Pumped storage is ideal for renewable energy. When the wind blows you use the power from wind turbines to pump the water back up. That is why Scotland is enlarging our pumped storage and retroftting hydro systems with pumped storage to handle the increase in our wind capacity (provided enough power for 75% of domestic power recently). When wave and tidal comes on stream to augment wind there will be base level generating capacity there that will generate power even when the wind is not blowing. The tides are also very predictable. The Pentland Firth between the Scottish mainland and Orkney is having tidal turbines installed. The Atlantic flows into the North Sea there, massive amounts of water move regular as clockwork.

        Scotland has LOTS of tidal races, large and small. Look at a sailing guide some time, it gives tidal speeds for every passage. Necessary if you are kayaking about, no point trying to kayak between two islands if the water is flowing faster than you can paddle. Time your trip so the tide is flowing the other way or haul out and have elevenses while you wait for the tide to change. Turbines in even a significant fraction of such places could generate serious amounts of reliable power.

        Though we might leave the Gulf of Corryvreckan as it is ;-)

  2. BurnT'offering

    Built by the government

    Then sold off. Sigh ...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While travelling I met a Californian who had discovered the "Amazing electric fast water boiling jug!!!" for the first time in his life.

    Seems he'd never seen a real kettle before because:

    240v x 13 amp ~ 3kW

    110v x 15 amp ~ 1.6kW

    While 3kW is more than enough to boil a litre of water during a commercial break, 1.6kW simply isn't. Gotta feel sorry for the yanks sometimes.

    1. GreggS

      Yeah but don't feel that sorry for them - they have far more commercial breaks in their shows than we do (even Sky 1).

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      >3kW is more than enough to boil a litre of water during a commercial break

      Given the length of commercial breaks on the other side of the pond (or, indeed, away from the "public service" channels on this side of the pond), 1.6kW is almost enough for a hot bath...

    3. ArrZarr Silver badge

      They solved the problem by having longer breaks. Still feel sorry for them, though.

    4. Spudley

      > While 3kW is more than enough to boil a litre of water during a commercial break, 1.6kW simply isn't.

      Surely even 1.6kW would be enough given how long ad breaks are on American TV.

    5. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      The americans use 110v @ 20 amp in kitchens so that's 2.2kW. Still not brilliant, and not all households have it, and if they don't, upgrading means upgrading the wiring to cope. So I assume that all kettles are crap.

      1. John 104

        RE: Kettles

        True, we have 110 at 15 or 20 amps. However, not all of us are bound to using electric heat for cooking. Barf! I've had it and it sucks ass. Impossible to regulate with any accuracy. We have natural gas at my home. Not sure about BTU conversion on what we have vs electric, but it still takes a bit to boil in a closed kettle. Still, we must be a patient lot, because it isn't a big deal to just turn on the stove and then go back to watching a movie or something else until the whistle blows. Then we - gasp! - get up and fill our cups.

        Our family is not typical Americana though. We don't watch much broadcast TV, and even then, it is mainly a Winter activity. Summer evenings are very long in the North West so outdoor activities rule.

      2. RJChurchill

        It's not just Yanks, Canadians have very similar standards and the same power grid system. 20 amp circuits are a new standard and only for kitchens, Most legacy houses have 15 amp breakers in the kitchen and will for some time. It seems catering to the lowest common denominator means there will be few or no kettles that draw more than 13-15 amps at 110 volts. Pity.

        1. Orv Silver badge

          Yup. A 20A 120V plug has the neutral prong rotated 90 degrees to prevent it being plugged into a 15A outlet. 20A circuits usually get outlets with a T-shaped neutral slot to accommodate both plugs. So far I've only seen 20A plugs on server rack PDUs and some especially large wall A/C units.

          If you think about it, being able to deliver 240 volts for large appliances, while still having no point in the system be more than 120 volts above ground, is actually pretty clever. It has the effect of reducing the shock hazard, even though it wasn't originally planned with that in mind.

      3. quartzie

        Us kettles

        The breakers might go up to 20A, but finding a kettle over 1600W is a miracle.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      TiVo FTW

      I never realized just how bad the commercial breaks had gotten until I switched to a TiVo last year. They have a lovely "jump 30 seconds" button when you're watching a recorded show, so as soon as the commercial starts it's usually at least 8 presses, and sometimes10, to skip the commercial break.

      Movies are the absolute worst - sometimes it's 11 or 12 jumps - yes, really, six minutes breaks, and they do this at least three or four times per hour. It's quite a horrible viewing experience, routinely turning a two hour movie into three hours of interrupted agony.

      The latest TiVo masterpiece is "skip mode", where they've already determined where the breaks are and one press of the "D" key gets you back to the show. Not available on all shows, but for the ones where it is, the breaks are even less intrusive.

      I keep wondering where the absolute pain point is for watchers - seven minute breaks, eight minutes, more? I would have though anything over two or three minutes would have caused immediate switching, but clearly not. All I know is that I completely stopped watching "live" TV, other than sports, since the TiVo arrived.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TiVo FTW

        And for the rest of us, are TV dongles, and Openshot....

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Some breaks are even longer than that

        I recently recorded a couple movies on BET, and there were a few breaks that required, I shit you not, 22 presses of the 30 second skip to get by. I can't fathom anyone sitting through an entire movie if they didn't have a DVR, you could make a quick run to the grocery store in that amount of time!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TiVo FTW

        Including trailers it's up to 10 mins an hour now - more or less - so they're wasting half an hour of your time if you watch 3 hours a night. If you multiply that up, even at minimum wage, that's well over £1300 per year that they owe you - and of course, you pay for the making and screening of the adverts as well (much more than the licence fee!!). And there are some on here who still want toabolish the BBC!!!

      4. Vincent Ballard
        Flame

        Re: TiVo FTW

        On Spanish TV they regularly make the last ad break in a feature film last 20 minutes, and come just 10 minutes before the credits.

      5. paulf Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: TiVo FTW

        Our home alternative is TV capture cards in a system running Mythbuntu. Myth TV packaged up with Ubuntu. It isn't flawless but is perfectly capable and seems to run on an old 3GHz Athlon with 8GB of RAM. That comes with 30s skip forward which makes skipping adverts easier. It can also flag adverts and, optionally, auto skip them but this can be a bit hit and miss so best to manually skip the time it thinks is an ad break when the ads start.

        Added bonus - TV shows can be kept as it simply saves the MPEG data to the HDD.

    7. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

      "Gotta feel sorry for the yanks sometimes."

      Most of us prefer coffee anyway.

      ...though the quality varies. My daughter, for example, drinks the instant stuff. Can't stand it, myself. Still, it uses hot water, so would benefit from your faster kettles.

      Me, I drink tea, so I'm left standing and waiting. Guess I need to move to England so I can get a faster cuppa. During commercial breaks that I don't get because I don't watch TV. ...And that's where it all falls apart. :)

      1. Fibbles

        For reasons unknown American instant coffee tastes like soap.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          If you think that American Coffee is bad

          Just try eating the rubber thay call 'Cheese'.

          and just about anything you buy in a Supermarket. Processed to oblivion and tastless to boot.

        2. John H Woods Silver badge

          "For reasons unknown American instant coffee tastes like soap." --- Fibbles

          They like that taste, that's why they eat Hershey bars.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Get a teapot for use on the stove then. We have one and it's great. Boiling water in about 2 minutes.

    8. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: "Electric Boiling Jug"

      Got one -- and I'm a Californian.

      One of the US's little secrets is that the domestic electricity supply is actually 230 volts. Its two phase, split around ground (earth), hence the 110v outlets you see everywhere. The higher voltage appears in the kitchen to power the range (cooker) so there's many a 'merkan of foreign origin who has a 220 volt outlet in the kitchen (or, in our case, one that leads to a couple of 13 amp sockets -- the Belkins used over here are beyond primitive). We use one for the kettle, another for the toaster.

      The 1.6kW needs to be watched carefully. Big Sister (aka the EU) is coming for your high wattage appliances because they're 'inefficient' (although how a kettle could be inefficient escapes me....).

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have two solutions:

      1) I don't watch much TV, so I usually have no limitations on how long I need to boil a pot.

      2) I don't try to boil the ocean, or even a full liter. I boil a cup, or maybe two if my wife wants one too.

      It's true, we do have ignoramuses who haven't ever seen an electric kettle. FWIW, if I really wanted a 240v kettle, I could have a 240v outlet installed. Now queue the chorus of Limey ignoramuses that don't realize we actually have 240v to our houses. Yes, it really is true, although it's usually only used for clothes dryers, water heaters, and cooking; not for tea kettles and televisions.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I have two solutions:

        "Now queue the chorus of Limey ignoramuses"

        Oh, you were doing so well and then you spoiled it with queue :-(

        I still upvoted you though.

        1. ShadowDragon8685

          Re: I have two solutions:

          It's not TECHNICALLY incorrect.

          I mean, he obviously meant "cue," but you could still assemble the chorus into a queue.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I have two solutions:

          >> "Now queue the chorus of Limey ignoramuses"

          > Oh, you were doing so well and then you spoiled it with queue :-(

          > I still upvoted you though.

          I do know this. But I've been touch typing for so long my fingers type the words as I think them without a lot conscious effort. E.g. often I think 'their' but they type 'there'.

          Usually I catch it, but not this time. Thanks for the up vote.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    10. Borg.King

      220V in US is possible

      Most houses in the US are connected to two 110V supplies that are 180° out of phase. If you know a competent electrician you can wire across the two phases and get 220V.

      I live in the U.S. and my tumble dryer and electric cooker use this two phase 220v supply as standard, as does my hot tub. They're on dedicated circuits though as they each can draw up to 50A.

      With an isolating transformer of capable rating, you can create a properly grounded 220V supply to an outlet in the kitchen, and then run a 3kW or similar european kettle. You would just have to have a very knowledgeable electrical inspector to sign off on that wiring.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 220V in US is possible

        > Most houses in the US are connected to two 110V supplies that are 180° out of phase. If you

        > know a competent electrician you can wire across the two phases and get 220V.

        *All* houses in the US are connected with a *single* 240v supply. It's split phase using a transformer on the pole, two hot, one ground (earth). Hopefully all the licensed, pro electricians are competent. They should all be able to wire a basic 240v outlet.

        > With an isolating transformer of capable rating, you can create a properly grounded 220V

        > supply to an outlet in the kitchen, and then run a 3kW or similar european kettle. You would

        > just have to have a very knowledgeable electrical inspector to sign off on that wiring.

        You don't need a transformer, you just need to understand electricity basics to wire a simple 240v outlet. Any building inspector that signs off on something using a transformer should be fired for being incompetent.

        I rest my case about Limey ignoramuses. Queued, cued, or kewed, the chorus begins.

    11. Nifty

      If we stay in the EU the new low power kettle regulations will be unshelved so we can join our American cousins on slow kettles. The Eurocrats have determined that a fast kettle is an inefficient one. A switch to beer would solve the issue I suppose.

  4. joshimitsu

    Great article

    I would say the facility is more like a capacitor than a battery though.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Battery or capacitor

      What word does the man in the street understand ? To most 'capacitor' means nothing, but he well understands what a rechargeable battery is all about.

      Not everyone here is techie enough to understand 'capacitor'.

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