Connecting talks to David Clutterbuck, National Grid’s T-pylon development lead, as work begins on a test line in Nottinghamshire for a radical innovation.
A bright horizon
"The world is watching – and we’re as excited as anybody to see the UK’s first T-pylon."
David Clutterbuck, National Grid’s T-pylon development lead.
More than 88,000 lattice pylons dot the UK landscape, 22,000 of them in National Grid’s network across England and Wales.
Source: National Grid.
The UK’s first pylon was built in 1928 and marked the birth of our electricity transmission network.
Today, more than 88,000 lattice pylons dot the UK landscape, 22,000 of them in National Grid’s network across England and Wales. Given the longevity and durability of this tried and tested design, finding an alternative to the lattice pylon was always going to be a challenge.
In 2011, National Grid launched a competition in conjunction with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to find an alternative design for electricity pylons in the UK. To be a success, the design needed to be practical, visually appealing and exciting. We received more than 250 entries from across the world, many showing genuine design flair and innovation.
But there could be only one winner and, in October 2011, Bystrup Architecture’s T-pylon was unanimously voted the judges’ favourite design. They cited its simplicity, visual appeal, shorter height. It also embraced a new approach to supporting the components needed to conduct electricity through the cabling.
The task now was to take the design from an inspired vision to reality.
The first step was to look in detail at the design. Was it, for example, mechanically sound and could it withstand the stresses placed on a pylon? Would it stand up to 50-year wind events – gusts of more than 80mph – or the weight of ice in severe weather? Would it be just as stable in marsh land as it would be on rocky outcrops?
We also needed to consider different pylon types for different uses. For example, the ‘suspension’ pylon supports cables in a straight line, while a ‘tension’ pylon allows us to turn corners. Typically, the tighter the turn, the greater the pressure is on the pylon and the stronger that structure needs to be.
The response from our engineers has been to develop a family of T-pylons, each for a specific function. This family includes the suspension and tension pylons and two forms of terminal structure – the double diamond and the gantry – for the point at which overhead lines end or go underground.
These new designs allow us to develop flexible, more visually appealing overhead line connections that meet the various engineering challenges we face across the UK. For example, the flying angle T-pylon has the same geometry as a suspension pylon but can accommodate a turn of 10 degrees, a first for National Grid that should further reduce the visual impact of the installation on the landscape.
We’re confident the T-pylon is a genuine and exciting alternative to the lattice pylon, so our next step is to develop a test line for training and development purposes. Following planning approval in 2013, we’re building a six span line of T-pylons at our Eakring Academy in Nottinghamshire where our engineers and apprentices learn how to maintain our transmission network. While the line won’t be electrified, it will consist of the full family of T-pylons: two suspension pylons, one flying angle, one tension and terminal pylons – a double diamond and two gantries.
Construction began on the new line this summer and the first pylons are scheduled to be erected in early 2015. We expect to complete construction – including the stringing of overhead lines – in late spring. We’ll then start training our apprentices and engineers on the T-pylon, ready for the first structures to be built and maintained in a live environment.
The T-pylon story is moving at an incredible pace. In just three years our engineers and partners have turned a fantastic design into a realistic, technically advanced and elegant alternative to the lattice pylon. The world is watching – and we’re as excited as anybody to see the UK’s first T-pylon.
David Wright, Director of Electricity Transmission, discusses the T-pylon and explains what else lies ahead for Britain’s high-voltage transmission network. Click here for more information.