Powering the games
Over fifty overhead lines were recycled and replaced with two 6km tunnels containing 200km of underground cabling
The two energy centres will power the new East London development long after the games has finished
The Kings Yard plant has two electric chillers, one absorption chiller, two hot water boilers and three bio boilers
The Energy Centre boasts some of the largest cooling, heating and power generating facilities in the UK
Artist’s impression of the Olympic Park Energy Centre
The first work at the Olympic site was developing the power infrastructure, and as the games approach we look back at the projects involved.
The buzz phrase for the 2012 Olympics development has been sustainable legacy and in the electrical infrastructure they have certainly delivered on that promise. The landscape of East London has been transformed with the removal of overhead pylons, construction of new, energy efficient energy centres and substations, and above all the infrastructure has been future-proofed by building in flexibility to incorporate any future technological advances.
“The energy buildings are embedded in the community – part of the urban mix, the new urban mix for this part of London, but they also hold gateway positions at the eastern and western edges of this regeneration area, so they just become objects of familiarisation,” Liam O’Sullivan, project manager at UK Power Networks explains. “Landmarks that people can orientate themselves by. So we thought that it was important that we were not just in boxes. They had to relate back to the passers-by as a way to offer something back.”
Without doubt the power infrastructure is a vital part of both a successful Olympics and the sustainable legacy. Even before construction began on the main site, work had commenced on building the power platform for the games. The first building on the Olympic Park was a new Primary Electrical Substation that will supply electricity to the Olympic Park and the Stratford City development.
The electrical substation is located in Kings Yard in the west of the Olympic Park and will distribute electricity across the Park and Stratford City site through new electrical networks consisting of more than 100km of electrical cabling. The substation is designed, constructed, owned and operated by EDF Energy.
The electrical substation takes power from the upstream 132,000-volt electrical network outside the Olympic Park site. Main transformers within the substation then ‘step-down’ the power to 11,000 volts so that it can be distributed and used by venues and buildings across the Park and in the Stratford City development.
A clear emphasis was put on the architectural designs of the electrical substation to ensure it fit in with the design of the wider Olympic Park. The electrical substation was designed by EDF Energy with specialist support from Andrews Associates for the structural design elements and NORD Architecture (a Glasgow-based practice that won the prestigious Young Architect of the Year Award in 2006).
The external substation architecture was designed as a dark brick to be appropriate to the building’s role as a key part of the utilities infrastructure in the Olympic Park. The dark brick also reflects the traditional use of the same brick stock as window and corner details on the former Kings Yard industrial buildings.
Sustainability is at the heart of the plans and the construction of the substation reused crushed materials from the demolition of the former Kings Yard buildings in the Olympic Park. The building also includes a ‘brown roof’, which involves crushed materials laid down on a flat roof to allow species to colonise naturally. The brown roof will help enhance the ecological value and biodiversity of the Olympic Park site by attracting local wildlife including black redstarts, a rare bird that thrives on brownfield land.
As part of the substation construction the skyline of east London was transformed with the removal of more than 50 electricity pylons. The powerlines project was started by the London Development Agency (LDA) in 2005, ahead of London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Games. It was then handed over to be managed by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), working with the LDA as well as EDF Energy and National Grid, the companies that own and operate the overhead lines.
Fifty-two overhead pylons had to be removed. These contained 1,300t of steel, which was all recycled, along with 130km of overhead wires. With the Olympic park site cleared, work continued to remove pylons on the outskirts of the site, through the Lower Lea Valley towards Hackney and West Ham.
An alternative distribution network also had to be put in place. Two 6km tunnels were built beneath the Olympic Park enabling the power needed for the Games and legacy developments to be carried underground. Four huge 40-tonne tunnelling machines toiled for 424 days to complete the operation which accounted for 85 per cent of the UK’s tunnelling for that year.
With the tunnels complete, work began on installing the 200km of cabling – enough to stretch from London to Nottingham. More than 9,000 brackets were installed to carry cabling along the tunnel walls, together with monitoring and ventilation equipment.
Apart from being at the heart of the Olympic power infrastructure, the primary Olympic Park Energy Centre makes claim to being one of the largest combined cooling, heating and power generating facilities built in the UK. There is also a second energy centre in the Stratford City complex. Both the energy centres will serve the new metropolitan development in East London after the 2012 Games.
In July 2008, the ODA and Stratford City Development (SCDL) contracted Cofely East London Energy (previously Elyo) to build the two energy centres. Cofely, an energy services subsidiary of GDF SUEZ, designed, financed and constructed the centres. Cofely has also developed about 16km of community energy networks for heating and cooling systems that operate at low temperatures to reduce energy losses. The total cost of the projects is £113m. The company will own and operate the facilities for 40 years.
The Kings Yard Victorian building was renovated to visually integrate with the surrounding listed buildings. The design was inspired from the Battersea and Tate Modern power stations. A 45m-high flue extractor was added to form an iconic part of the skyline.
The energy centre has a flexible modular design with a natural gas-fired combined cooling heat and power (CCHP) unit and biomass-fired boilers. GE Energy supplied a 3.1MW Jenbacher engine-based cogeneration module for thermal power generation. They also supplied two 3.3MW natural gas cogeneration modules for the Stratford Energy Centre.
The Kings Yard plant is equipped with two 20MW hot water boilers, three 3.5MW bio-boilers, two 7MW electric chillers and one 4MW absorption chiller. It has five cooling towers. The boilers at the energy centre are run on natural gas. The base level demand for heat during the winter months is met through the bio-boilers that use sustainable biomass, such as woodchips and pulp, as feedstock.
The plants use energy efficient systems and mechanisms to reduce the heat supply costs. Ammonia-based chillers and electrical and absorption chillers enable the Olympic Park to meet the demand for cooling.
“We actually looked at the sub-history of power generation in London and people think back to the Tate Modern, to Battersea Power Station and those quite heroic buildings related to heavy engineering, all brick buildings, always a dominant chimney or a series of chimneys. People now go to the Tate Modern and ultimately go to Battersea and they have become familiar and people like them and they can form a bond with them.” O’Sullivan continues.
“This is very much about the history of energy generation. This is the new generation and it is much cleaner and much more efficient, and we felt that our buildings needed to reflect that. So it wasn’t a case of churning out what people perceived it to be, which is a dumb box, but it is an efficient dumb box. It’s all about the kit. This needed to be flexible, it needed to represent energy regeneration and it was something that the client was very keen on.
“Immediately this is where we started thinking about the buildings being key markers within the urban mix, one on the West and one on the East of the site. We built large scale models and really worked hard with the design teams about what opportunities they anticipated, what was it on the buildings that we could express.”
The design process included reference visits to Heathrow’s Terminal 5. One of the key considerations was to show passers-by what was in the building. “It was very important at an early stage that people can engage with the building, so we came up with the idea of this huge bay window that gives a view into the gas boilers. It was one space where acoustics were not an issue and we could still get ventilation. We knew that the key thing was to keep the building simple, so it is just a rectangle plan. We tried to simplify things wherever possible. We needed to keep the cooling towers lower because of the planning parameters linked to the planning application. The idea was to create simple inner volume and to articulate things.”
From both a visual and functional standpoint the energy legacy from the Games will tick the boxes. The local communities will benefit from low-cost, sustainable energy for many years to come and the infrastructure project can become a blueprint to other UK communities.
Substation facts and figures
* More than 130,000 bricks were used in the construction of the substation
* More than 200 piles were installed up to 19m into the ground to form the foundations for the building
* The electricity substation will house 132/11kV transformers, each weighing 110t, as well as 11,000 switchgear and auxiliary equipment
* The building is 80m-long and 14m-wide. The building height varies – the highest point being 15.9m at the Western end and lowest point is 4.875m in the centre
* The substation will distribute electricity across the Olympic Park and Stratford City site through new electrical networks consisting of more than 100km of electrical cabling – enough to cover 250 laps of the Olympic Stadium track
* The substation's eastern tower was designed to be lower in height to avoid blocking a viewing corridor from the north-east corner of the Olympic Park to the Olympic Stadium in south-west, as well as a view out towards central London, to St Paul's Cathedral and the Swiss Re tower ('the Gherkin')
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