How plant helps power our TVs, kettles and showers
PUBLISHED: 06:31 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:39 29 November 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
If your TV’s on in Taverham, your kettle’s on in Kettlestone or you’re showering in Sheringham, the chances are your ‘leccy comes from Lynn.
A newly-refurbished power station just off the A47 can generate enough energy to supply every home in Norfolk.
It steps in to boost supplies when renewable energy sources like wind or solar need help to meet demand.
Station manager Adam Kennard oversaw the £100m conversion of Centrica's 20-year-old Lynn Power Station into a leaner, greener plant than its gas and oil-burning predecessor.
"I said to my Dad they were giving me the world's biggest Lego set to play with," he said. "I wasn't going to say no."
Some Lego. Over the last couple of years, a 330-tonne generator, massive turbines and condenser fans have been installed.
The longest lorry chain in the country, 100m long, was needed to haul its giant Siemens turbines from Lynn Docks to Saddlebow, after their voyage from Germany.
One chunk of equipment weighing hundreds of tonnes needed to be lowered into place with a tolerance of 18mm.
Piles had to be sunk 30m to find solid rock beneath the silt.
Despite the scale and the amount of heights, heavy lifting and sheer grunt required Mr Kennard, 51, from Norwich said the massive engineering job went off almost completely without mishap.
"In one million or so working hours, the worst injury we had was a couple of bee stings," he said.
In the control room, shift operator James Bell and his colleagues preside over a bank of screens.
Demand for power is shown as electricity companies request a top-up via the grid to maintain supplies to their customers.
Data from thousands of monitoring points around the plant is also on display, enabling staff to fine-tune its output.
"It's probably more complex than flying a plane," said Mr Kennard. "You've got a gas turbine, a steam turbine, a generator. You've got to monitor, check and correct."
Centrica spent £1m training its 35 staff to run the plant, after a lengthy recruitment process.
Mr Kennard said: "We hired on attitude and approach. We interviewed 200 people to fill 35 roles. We took our time, we wanted the right attitude, the right approach to work." The plant has an expected working life of around 15 years. By the mid-2030s renewable energy sources are expected to have viable battery storage, meaning Lynn will no longer be needed to provide a back-up for days when there is no wind.
Until then it can be up and running in around 40 minutes, with the steam turbine kicking in a little after the main gas turbine is fired up.
"Right now, we're doing around 220MW, which is about 200,000 homes," said Mr Kennard as we toured the cathedral-sized building you can see from miles across the Fens. "It's like a massive plane engine, that's what a turbine is, but it develops more power than a jumbo jet engine on take-off."
Mr Kennard is big on comparisons. He says he is collecting them to prepare for when school-children begin visiting the site. It is clear he is looking forward to it.
A boiler weighs as much as nine Indian elephants, he volunteers, while condenser fans are "about the size of a house".
"During the day, we come on in the morning when people are getting up and putting on their kettles," he said. "We'll go off during the middle of the day and we'll come back on during the evening, when it gets dark and there's no solar power."
Although it still creates carbon dioxide by burning gas, the plant is far cleaner than its combined gas and diesel-powered predecessor, which in turn was cleaner than the coal-fired stations which belched black smoke two generations ago.
Instead of going straight up the chimney and to waste, its exhaust gases heat water in a boiler, which then powers a steam turbine, before they are released. Vapour is then condensed by Mr Kennard's house-sized condensers to be recycled via a closed system.
The plant can generate a maximum of around 400MW when it is running full tilt - more or less enough to power every house in Norfolk, said Mr Kennard.
One to ponder next time you stick the kettle on first thing, or sit down for a box-set binge.