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. itzman

      Re: Viewing habits

      I wonder if they still get the same kind of peaks these days with everyone's PVRs skipping the ads or people watching on-demand?

      http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk

    2. Paul Woodhouse

      Re: Viewing habits

      the light in the fridge going on when the door opens to get more cold bottles of beer does it through Eurovision ...

    3. fishman

      Re: Viewing habits

      The peaks during breaks reminds me of the movie "Flushed Away", where the peak event was everyone flushing the loo at halftime for a football game.

    4. Peter Ford

      Re: Viewing habits

      No adverts in Eurovision, so no tea breaks. That might just be in the UK on BBC: some of the fillers they show when other networks are putting in their adverts make you pine for a Waitrose Christmas advert.

      Anyway, no alcohol before song nine...

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    had a look around there back in 1990 as part of our college (BTEC Engineering) piss up trip around Wales, it was disguised as an educational trip. We did some really good field trips.

    Goonhilly private tour

    Devonport Dockyard, lecturer was ex chief engineer on aircraft carriers

    Plessy Semiconductors

    Geothermal Hot rocks project

    Some blokes (An ex navy mate of our lecturer) house up on Dartmoor who powered his house with his own hydroelectric system.

    And the best one. St Austell Brewery tour (the brewery was just across the road from the college) Free bar tasting session after but the 1h college bus trip home wasn't quite as much fun!

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      It's like another age - Goonhilly - gone, Devonport - still there but much smaller, the hot rocks at Rosemanowes - gone (well at least the rocks are still there). I had to check that Plessy was still with us - apparently so.

      But the brewery is still there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the Plessy site has gone through several owners since back in the day. It might be called Plessy now but its nothing to do with the old Plessy (apart from being run by ex-original Plessy people) It now makes LED lighting, ad its a leader in it.

        The hot rocks was a good trip, very much before its time. Goonhilly was really cool had a special behind the scenes tour with an old BT lag

        There's been a really good documentary about Devonport dockyard on Quest (I think) its still bleedy massive!

        And as for the brewery, well that's still there but the college has moved its no longer at Palace Rd I think its over at John Key house the old EEC HQ. The brewery was great the smell of it wafting over campus of a morning.

      2. SA_Mathieson

        The good news is that Goonhilly isn't gone, although BT tried. It's not open to the public at the moment unfortunately, but The Register got me in for an earlier Geek's Guide: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/25/geeks_guide_goonhilly/.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          The good news is that Goonhilly isn't gone, although BT tried. It's not open to the public at the moment unfortunately,

          Four years or so ago, my wife and I took a Segway tour around a (quite small) part of the Goonhilly campus; didn't get to see the infrastructure stuff up close, unfortunately.

          If you're ever in the area, I can highly recommend the nearby Roskilly's Ice-Cream factory and working farm. Well worth a visit.

    2. Lusty Silver badge

      "piss up trip around Wales"

      Must have been good, you managed to tour the West-country on a welsh piss up!

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        To be fair, the Cornish are more Welsh than English.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ahhhh well the Welsh piss up was an end of year effort. The other trips were spread over a 2 week period during the term. Normally you would do 2 weeks work experience but we all agreed after the first year that it was a waste of time (2 weeks working in a clay pit didn't impress me too much) so we did lots of field trips instead

    3. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      One more:

      Morgan Cars factory tour (Malvern)

      Did that one year and Mrs Marmite had the inspiration to treat me to a weekends away with hire of a Morgan, for a major birthday. Bless her.

  2. RockBurner

    go from stand-by to 1.32 gigawatts in 12 seconds eh...

    so - all we need to do now is get it up to 88 miles per hour?

    1. Sir Alien

      Re: go from stand-by to 1.32 gigawatts in 12 seconds eh...

      No because that 0.11 "jigawatz" over capacity will blow the flux capacitor right out the car. I think relying on Mr Fusion in this case will be a safer bet.

      1. Toltec

        Re: go from stand-by to 1.32 gigawatts in 12 seconds eh...

        The flux capacitor will be fine, you simply use the additional energy for the acceleration up to 88mph, which should take about a tenth of a second*

        * Delorean = 1230kg therefore approx 1.5 tons with a couple of passengers and extra time travel equipment.

        Terms and conditions apply, internal organs may be affected.

  3. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    It was even more impressive during construction

    I was part of the team that produced the original computer based monitoring system (based on a PDP 11/34 with 2 RK05 disks (2.4MBytes each!!)).

    To get the main overhead cranes into position, large mobile cranes were used which had about 6 inches of clearance coming down the main access tunnel - the crane driver was superb.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It was even more impressive during construction

      You can achieve a lot with 6 inches... or so I'm told...

  4. cray74

    Now build a few dozen more...

    Dinorwig pumped storage power station is an answer to metering out erratic and unpredictable renewables like wind and solar. Unfortunately, few people want to knuckle down to build such large, expensive installations and seem to be looking for smaller storage options like batteries or ammonia fuel cells they can expand gradually, pacing the renewables and their revenues.

    Sorry, folks, you wanted wind and solar to power nations. You need power storage that can match those demands and there's no simple, cheap solution.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now build a few dozen more...

      You're sort of right, but you can lose wind for a couple of weeks and it would take a fair size pond to balance that out.

      Pretty much if something doesn't work for a fortnight it may as well not work at all.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Now build a few dozen more...

      No. Dinorwig was built to make best use of the nuclear stations that were planned at the time of its construction in 1974, well before the current interest in wind and solar.

      1. cray74

        Re: Now build a few dozen more...

        Dinorwig was built to make best use of the nuclear stations

        I'm familiar with Dinorwig's origins. It was following in the footsteps of other pumped storage facilities balancing nuclear output, like Ludington. My comment was directed at its current use and value in balancing renewables, and that renewables aren't going to sweep in to save us all without even more expense.

        but you can lose wind for a couple of weeks and it would take a fair size pond to balance that out.

        Hence my preference for nuclear power. Since nuclear plants have been designed with and have demonstrated load-following capabilities (e.g., the boiling water reactors around Chicago sometimes run in load-following mode), you don't even have to limit nuclear power to base load.

    3. itzman
      FAIL

      Re: Now build a few dozen more...

      Sorry, folks, you wanted wind and solar to power nations.

      No, I never did, because it cant.

      You need power storage that can match those demands and there's no simple, cheap solution.

      There's no solution at all, even complex and expensive. Especially in terms of storing summer solar energy for winter usage.

      Renewable energy is pretty much dead in the water as any competent electrical engineer can calculate for you. It doesn't work now and it never will.

      Largely its there to make money out of stupid consumers and to buy stupid green votes with.

      On those terms its been a spectacular success. It just fails to generate useful net amounts of energy at costs exceeding even the most ill-conceived nuclear plant...

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Now build a few dozen more...

        @Itzman,

        So given fossil is rapidly diminshing , are we all doomed or do you have any ideas?

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Now build a few dozen more...

          "So given fossil is rapidly diminshing , are we all doomed or do you have any ideas?"

          I think the informed green analysis is that fossil isn't diminishing and that's the problem. We have enough filthy coal to last for another century or two and these oil shaley thingies could keep us in CO2 for the rest of your lifetime.

          For those who think this is a problem, might I recommend some nice nukes and a few facilities such as this one to balance the load? For those who don't think this is a problem, might I recommend the same, just so that there isn't a difficult decision to be made? For those who think this is a great opportunity to create a political bandwagon to ride on for a few years, might I suggest lots of renewables that neatly combine "appearing to do something" with "not actually solving the problem, thereby keeping the bandwagon rolling indefinitely".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Now build a few dozen more...

            Speaking of bandwagons...

            "most democratic politicians seem to think that the way to close a stable door is to create a market in permits-to-leave-doors-open. So, if we conform to the dogma that climate change should be solved through markets, what’s the market-based way to ensure we achieve our simple goal [...]"

            https://www.withouthotair.com/c29/page_223.shtml

            Professor Sir David Mackay FRS, FInstP. RIP.

        2. cray74

          Re: Now build a few dozen more...

          So given fossil is rapidly diminshing , are we all doomed or do you have any ideas?

          I'd start by quibbling about "rapidly diminishing." Larger coal reserves, like those of North America, have some centuries of life in them. And we haven't really tapped methane clathrates.

          But there are lots of ways to replace fossil fuels. They just cost more than ready made fossil fuels sitting in the ground. Options include:

          1) Oil synthesis from water and coal or methane

          2) Oil synthesis from water and carbon dioxide

          3) Ammonia fuel synthesis from water and nitrogen

          4) Hydrogen synthesis from water

          (I'm not touching biofuels because they tend to compete with farming. The bioethanol craze in the US hurt food prices globally. Give me ammonia or propane synthesized with nuclear energy.)

          To replace fossil fuels all you need is lots of energy, more money, and the common feedstocks. And a convenient storage method in the case of hydrogen.

      2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: Now build a few dozen more...

        "Sorry, folks, you wanted wind and solar to power nations.

        No, I never did, because it cant."

        Indeed, this needs more repeating. Some separation of the renewables into things that are grid level supply (like hydro), grid level but part time (big wind, solar concentrators), and stuff that is effectively small scale demand reduction (rooftop solar, micro wind/hydro, insulation).

        I've got some of the things that "count" as renewables, but I'm under no illusions that my dozen solar panels and three batteries would do anything other than allow me to scrape by and involve scheduling my power usage in ways that would drive me nuts. Good as a money saver, but not replacing the grid anytime soon. Hell, even if I ran a diesel generator it'd still be more hassle than just paying for the grid.

        While I do agree with your sentiments about generation, but nuclear seems an odd comparison, since there hasn't been a nuke built in the UK for ~30 years, so calcualting it's costs are pretty bunk as a comparison. Gas, waste, bio fuel and mini hydro (in about that order) are what the UK appears to have built, and while I <3 mini hydro it's never going to be viable* for the UK as a generation source.

        * based on NZ, which has masses of hydro, has mothballed and abandoned working hydro plants, and has 1/20th the population, hydro only does 50-60% of the base load, or 5-6% of the UK, if the UK had an equivalent to the mighty Waikato.

        1. Dagg
          Headmaster

          Re: Now build a few dozen more...

          Hey, MonkeyCee the hydro plants in New Zealand that have been mothballed or dismantled were all old and small and most were closed down over 60 years ago and were under 1 MW. Most of the current shutdown plants were thermal.

          Current capacity

          5452 MW Hydro

          2413 MW Thermal

          1014 MW Geothermal

          685 MW Wind

          68 MW Bio

          Planned capacity

          3400 MW Wind

          1000 MW Thermal

          285 MW Hydro

          250 MW Geothermal

          210 MW Tidal

      3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Now build a few dozen more...

        The solar panels on my roof charge my leccy car and send power to the grid. As soon as things like the Tesla Powerwall come down from their frankly stupidly silly price to something more affordable, going off grid will become a real possibity.

        Even on a cloudy day in winter it will give me 60-80% of a charge for the car.

        If that's not the future, then what is eh?

      4. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: Now build a few dozen more...

        > Renewable energy is pretty much dead in the water as any competent electrical engineer can calculate for you. It doesn't work now and it never will

        A brave prediction sir.

        Hydro has been with us for a long time. You can make many complaints about its environmental impact and the good sites are already taken, but there is no escaping that it works. It is usually a lot cheaper than coal or nuclear and can be classified as baseload. Also as mentioned in the article, it has by orders of magnitude the fastest cold boot times of any current baseload.

        I can completely understand that solar has a somewhat limited benefit in the UK but in other parts of the world we even get sun from time to time.

        The price of solar has dropped by orders of magnitude over the past decade. That trend is only going one way. The question longer term isn't whether some baseline can be replaced but rather how much is needed to maintain reliability. With pumped storage as illustrated here, that number can go much further north. Remember that solar doesn't require ongoing fuel costs so there will be a running cost advantage. Once those graphs cross over, it will be nigh impossible to get funding for new projects.

        Another important point is that not all demand is inelastic. We just haven't had the levers to discourage behaviour in real time until recently. Whilst lighting, cooking, air con or heating and of course warm beverages are a given, much industrial uses like smelters can be paid to partially shutdown for peak periods.

        Time of use "smart meters" are a longer term demand management opportunity. Each EV has a battery pack between about 10 and 60 kWh which again in a longer term can handle fluctuations.

        Whilst it isn't all going to change tomorrow, the writing is on the wall.

    4. Citizen99
      Linux

      Re: Now build a few dozen more...

      'Sorry, folks, you wanted wind and solar to power nations.'

      Not me, pal ;-)

      At least, only if/where the engineering & cost/benefit trade-offs make sense.

  5. Alan Potter 1
    Thumb Up

    Cruachan

    For those in the north of the country who want to see something similar, there is Ben Cruachan on the side of Loch Awe - http://www.visitcruachan.co.uk/

    Also a great tour (I was on it last year)

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Cruachan

      Agreed - very good tour.

      IIRC, Cruachan has previously been visited by El Reg for a Geek's Guide To Britain article

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        Re: Cruachan @ Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

        yes. Said article may be found here

        In fact, I would very much like to see a Reg article comparing these two power stations and how available technology at time of construction influenced the differences in design, function, and output.

  6. Ed 13
    Thumb Up

    Ffestiniog Pump Storage

    There's another (smaller - only 360MW) pump storage in North Wales at Ffestiniog (http://www.fhc.co.uk/ffestiniog.htm), not far from Dinorwig. It's an older design that uses separate pumps and turbines, rather than the reversible pump/tubines like Dinorwig.

    The history of both of these are tied in with the nuclear power stations in the area. Ffestiniog was built to complement the Trawsfynydd station, and Dinorwig to complement the Wylfa station on Anglesey.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ffestiniog Pump Storage

      "[...] and Dinorwig to complement the Wylfa station on Anglesey."

      Wylfa was also responsible for the nearby location of an aluminium smelting works. That formed Wylfa's essential base load to avoid stand-by periods. Being symbiotic - when Wylfa closed so did the smelter.

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wylfa

        [pedant]

        The smelter closure was annouced around the same time as the Wylfa closure was first announced, for the reason you mention - cheap reliable electricity is important to smelters.

        Then there were extensions to the Wylfa lifetime. The smelter had been closed, but Wylfa was still operating. Oh well.

        Then some bright spark found some fuel at Wylfa that allowed an extra few months operation.

        Generation finally ceased on 30 Dec 2015:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qveeBfU5G4

        The plant is currently being de-fueled, which will be followed by de-commissioning.

        [/pedant]

        This *might* be followed by the building of another nuclear plant nearby. But the UK nuclear program seems to be in just as much of a mess now as it has been for the last decade or more. Still, there's no risk of lights going out, is there...

        Or is there? Did anyone notice there was another gridco Notice of Insufficient Margin a week ago? (the third NISM since 2009, the previous one being November 2015). It was reported in the FT on Tuesday (paywall, go via Google may get you there for free):

        https://next.ft.com/content/0ac7d2e4-16b9-11e6-b197-a4af20d5575e

        I thought the Grid themselves listed these things somewhere but can't quickly find it.

  7. NotBob

    Wonky math

    547m (167ft) height as there are internal floors, but the 180m length and 23m (590ft)

    These conversions seem off, can we get reg standard units, please?

    1. Whiskers

      Re: Wonky math

      I propose '1 Dinorwig' as a standard unit. Of what exactly, I leave to others.

    2. calmeilles

      Re: Wonky math

      Transposed the feet and meter figures. Silly billies.

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    memories ...

    I went for a visit many years ago. It was great fun but I remember one thing - hitting the sheep/cattle grid at the entrance at only about 4mph and the car rattling so hard it ejected the CD and broke the main dashboard mountings! The woman showing us around said "Oh yes, it is vicious but it still doesn't keep the sheep out." :-)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: memories ...

      obligatory Welsh joke about keeping the sheep in ?

  9. Mike Richards Silver badge

    CEGB

    I wonder what our energy industry would look like today if the wanton vandalism of dismantling the foresighted CEGB had never happened?

    Ah lovely Dinorwig, I recall endless episodes of Blue Peter visiting it when it was under construction, and realising this was a. very. big. thing. indeed.

  10. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    This is what UK engineering was capable of doing, but thanks to successive governments bending over and getting shafted by the EU and foreign firms asset stripping our industries, we no longer have the manpower or skill to do it again !

    1. Len Silver badge

      Bollocks. Some of the world’s largest engineering countries are all EU member states. They are doing fine, not only building their own stuff but also exporting engineering prowess like there is no tomorrow. That is why German and Italian companies build our trains and French companies build our power plants.

      The problem is that the UK doesn’t value engineering. While in Germany it is a criminal offence to call oneself an engineer without the five-year university degree, in the UK some bloke who has followed a one-day course on installing broadband modems calls himself an engineer.

      Alas, people rather do Media Studies (or its posh equivalent, History) and want to become journalist.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the UK doesn’t value engineering.

        It's not *quite* that simple (a few decent graduate engineers can get a decent wage in the City so long as they don't mind life on the Dark Side) but it's not far off.

        The real killer degree is not Media Studies but PPE at Oxford (Politics Philosophy and Economics, aka the three year doss, allowing plenty of time to develop the early stages of a career in politics). Look at how many senior UK politicians (and others) have been there, and what the results are:

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

        The Oxford four year engineering degree used to be worth something, but half the UK-origin graduates went straight into working for accounting companies. Probably more than half these days :(

        "in the UK some bloke who has followed a one-day course on installing broadband modems calls himself an engineer."

        And the Institution of Engineering and Technology doesn't even seem to care; its monthly 'professional journal' is now a pale imitation of something like T3, but wins awards for its graphic design. Hopeless.

        Very sad.

        1. Citizen99
          Linux

          Re: the UK doesn’t value engineering.

          I seem to remember an episode of Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey said of some politician with PPE '...oh yes, General Studies ...'

        2. Ian Emery Silver badge

          Re: the UK doesn’t value engineering.

          Some obscure "Media Studies" type courses at lower levels are worth 5 times as many credits as more difficult engineering courses - no wonder no one does engineering.

          At NVQ level, it is even more ridiculous; you can do a NVQ3 in Childcare over a week (if you could get the mentor teacher to turn up), yet the same in many engineering courses take 1-2 years.

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