Pylons: Sustainability

Let's go deeper into the grid and find out more about what makes a perfect pylon...

Hi guys! Marina Ventura here. 

Map App and I are on a mission to explore the WHAT, HOW and WHY about the pylons that help carry electricity from where it’s produced to where’s its needed. 

We want your help to come up with some cool designs for an electricity pylon of the future.

There’s lots to think about – from its design to what it’s made of and how its built.  So join us as we find out what makes a perfect pylon!

When it comes to electricity, pylons are super important. 

With growing reliance on green energy like solar and wind that don’t release harmful gases into the atmosphere, many more are needed to connect these new supplies with where we live. 

As with any infrastructure networks, pylons and the national grid have to be built and maintained in a way that’s energy efficient and minimises harm to the environment.

So, let’s dive in and find out about how pylons and the grid can be more sustainable. 

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Location, location location!

When extending the grid and building new pylons, a lot of analysis and consultations are undertaken to choose routes for the cables and places to build the pylons where they’ll have the least impact on the countryside and the environment. That includes places of archaeological interest as well as animals and plant life.

An interesting fact is that as the areas around pylons are fenced off to protect people and wildlife, the unfarmed grass beneath pylons have become great habitats for animals and plants. 

So, whilst some may complain about the eyesore of pylons, they are actually helping the natural ecosystems that benefit people and planet.

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We need to keep wildlife away from pylons to avoid electrocution but often you see birds sitting on the cables, watching the world go by. Why don’t they get electrocuted? 

When birds sit with both feet on the cables, their legs have an equal electrical potential, so electricity doesn’t move through their bodies. They’re also a long way away from the ground and not in contact with anything touching the ground, so the electricity stays in the cables. 

Problems arise when one creates a contact between the cables and the ground and that’s why you should never fly kites near electrical cables.

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Designing smarter

Another sustainability factor is designing smarter.

New styles of pylons are designed to be less noticeable and blend in with the landscape better. The supercool looking ‘T-pylon’ is shorter and sleeker than the traditional lattice towers we’re more used to seeing.

It’s not just about building new things either!

Whenever possible, existing pylons will be upgraded. This means fewer materials are used and there’s no need to disturb new areas of land. By using the same spots, they also minimise the impact on the countryside and environment.

As we’ve also found out, instead of going up… we can go DOWN! Underground!

In sensitive areas, like national parks or places of natural beauty, power cables are buried underground to protect the scenery.

Whilst they are more expensive to build and a bit more complicated to fix if something goes wrong, they can help keeps areas looking great and natural.

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New technology is also helping when it comes to maintenance…

Whilst pylons are designed to last for around 80 years, the conductors, insulators and other fittings on high-voltage overhead lines normally last for about 40 years, so they need to be regularly checked to maintain the grid and ensure it continues to supplying electricity safely and securely.

As well as teams on the ground, helicopters and drones are used to monitor the grid. Drones are especially good as they use clean energy for power, are very quiet and can cover large distances.  They’re also good to get to hard-to-reach areas instead of driving trucks over sensitive land.

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By doing all these things, the grid is helping make sure our lights remain on. It’s all about balancing our need for power with the need to protect the environment.

It’s time to design

It’s something we want YOU to be part of. Yes… YOU!

Why not get scribbling and start your design for a pylon of the future and you might win a £100 LEGO voucher, so get ready.

Have a think about some of the important things to consider – how can you design a pylon that does a great job, whilst making the least possible harm to the environment?

Closing date for submissions is 26th August 2024.

We can’t wait to see your ideas!

Marina Ventura Energy Explorer is made with support from Grid for Good by the National Grid.

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