Power for the Underground
Few of the original power stations remain. However, the Greenwich Generating Station is still available as a back-up electricity source for the London Underground.
|Greenwich power station shortly after its construction. © NMM|
It was built in two stages between 1902 and 1910 for the London County Council to power the capital's tramways and tube railways, which were being electrified at that time.
The station is an early example of a steel-framed building with a stone-clad brick skin.
|Greenwich power station, July 1968. © NMM|
The two chimneys for stage one were 76 m (250 feet) high. But following objections from the Royal Observatory, the stage two chimneys were reduced to only 55 m (182 feet).
Steam engines and turbines
The original power plant included a coal-fired boiler house and an engine room. This housed four compound reciprocating steam engines driving flywheel-type alternators at 6600 volts and 25 hertz.
|A worker inside Greenwich power station. © NMM|
By 1910 the advantages of steam turbines were well known and four steam turbine alternators were installed for stage two of the building programme. The original reciprocating engines were replaced by steam turbines in 1922.
|Machinery at Greenwich power station. © NMM|
Gas turbine age
The next major change to the station came in the mid-1960s when the steam plant was replaced by Rolls Royce gas turbine generators, similar to those used in jet aircraft.
|Greenwich power station in July 1974. © NMM|
These originally burned oil, but were later converted to dual-fuel (oil and gas). The generators are housed in what was formerly the boiler house, and they have a total capacity of 117.6 MW, generated at 11,000 volts. This voltage can be increased to 22,000 volts for connection to the London Underground electricity system.
The coaling pier
Close to the power station is the coaling pier in the River Thames. This stands on 16 doric style, cast iron columns.
|Greenwich power station coaling pier. © NMM|
Coal was landed from colliers onto the pier, and then sent to a large number of storage bunkers.
The pier is now no longer used because the relatively small amount of oil used at the station comes by road tanker, and gas and oil do not produce the ash that coal used to, which was removed via the jetty.
Interestingly, the Poet Laureate C. Day Lewis used the space under the pier as the site of a murder mystery when writing thrillers under the name 'Nicholas Blake'!