Drax in North Yorkshire contributes nearly a tenth of the UK’s energy needs by the firing of coal and biomass and is the country’s largest power station.
I was fortunate enough to be given a special tour of the vast site (driven about in a very nifty electric car). The journey is a fascinating step by step guide in how it is possible to charge our smartphones, watch t.v and make a cup of coffee with barely a thought as to where the electricity comes from.
The rapid reduction in dependency on coal and the rise of biomass is shrinking the area required to house stocks of coal. Much of the current story of the station is the rise in biomass and the decline of coal.
The 4 huge domes where the biomass material is kept (by-product of sustainably managed North American timber burns best apparently) were even more impressive when I learnt that the containers, each able to accommodate the Albert Hall only take around an hour to inflate.
The site has its own branch line to receive deliveries of raw materials and sources its water from the neighbouring River Ouse ~ my guide enthusiastically pointed out that the water is returned to its origin cleaner than when it arrives.
There are statistics and facts to boggle the mind (each of the 12 cooling towers is large enough to house St Paul’s Cathedral, 99% of ash is removed from the burning of coal and the resulting gypsum is sold to the construction industry, each generator provides enough electricity to power a million homes…) but also to make you think about the scale, complexity and symbiosis involved in an essentially simple step process.
Ear protectors are required for the turbine hall (do I need to say that it’s very big ?) and in a particularly sultry July day the atmosphere was stifling. It’s the business end of the place where all the energy produced from the burning of the raw materials gets put to use and turns the massive turbines to create the precious electricity. A portion of said electricity is simply fed back into the site as it needs rather a lot to function…the rest is fed to the National Grid and powers Leeds and Sheffield and Manchester and…well you get the point.
Getting touching distance from one of the 12 cooling towers that dominate the distant skyline of North Yorkshire was a treat. I’d always imagined these as inanimate giants simply conduits for steam but seeing them up close you realise that they are working creatures as torrents of water cascade around the bases.
Drax has had education visits for a while now but has recently opened this opportunity up for all of us in the shape of weekend tours and I thoroughly recommend you give it a go. The subject of where our energy comes from is as big and complex as the production processes themselves but one thing that is without question is that our need for power is showing no signs of diminishing and a greater understanding of how we acquire our energy should be of interest to all of us.