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200 year old canal helps make the tea during Coronation Street

Caen Hill lock flight, a two-century old Wiltshire landmark is helping millions of people enjoy cups of tea during breaks in TV programmes, thanks to innovative technology.

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“It’s great that something 200-years old is solving a very 21st Century-century problem.
Darren Parkinson

We've joined forces with Open Energi to turn off water pumps on the historic Kennet & Avon Canal at times when the National Grid needs to ‘borrow' electricity to cope with major surges in demand. Sporting competitions and breaks during popular TV shows are among the times when the technology is needed, with the canal supporting as many as 10 ‘events' each day.

The National Grid is unable to store electricity and reducing consumption from large electricity users for a few minutes during ‘events', by turning off equipment such as heaters and air conditioning units in large office blocks, provides a green and affordable solution. It is the first time the canal network has been used for this purpose.

Absorbing 'excess' energy

Pumps at Caen Hill lock flight, Seend, Semington, Wootton Rivers and Bradford-upon-Avon send the equivalent of 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools back to the top of hills along the Kennet & Avon, after the movement of boats through locks has brought the water down the slopes.

Open Energi's technology can also turn the pumps on if there is too much energy in the grid, which can lead to equipment failures. For example, when over 17 million people watched Andy Murray win the Wimbledon title in sweltering temperatures, the canal's pumps helped to absorb the ‘excess' energy which was, in effect, left on the grid while people were busy cheering Andy and not making cups of tea.

The technology earns us approximately £17,000 per year, as well as contributing to CO2 footprint savings.

Embracing cutting-edge technology

Darren Parkinson, from the Canal & River Trust, said: “It's great that something 200-years old is solving a very 21st Century-century problem. The Kennet & Avon Canal is a really beautiful, scenic waterway, full of wildlife. That it's embracing cutting-edge technology and doing its bit to help people all over the country go about their daily lives is fascinating. Next time you flick the switch on the kettle at half-time in the Cup Final or during the X Factor, remember there's part of a historic waterway going to sleep for a few minutes to help you.

“It doesn't affect how people use the canal, as the pumps are only turned off or on for a matter of minutes at a time. Open Energi's technology monitors potential ‘events' and sends a request to activate the pumps - all of this happens automatically in matter of seconds at the locations where the pumps are. We are delighted with how the project is progressing. We always say the canal offers so much more than people think, and this is further proof.”

Ged Holmes from Open Energi, added: “Most people don't realise but every day National Grid faces a constant challenge to balance our electricity supply and demand. By embracing our technology, the Canal & River Trust is doing its bit to keep the lights on and help the UK meet its future energy security needs. At the same time it is cutting carbon and generating income to support the charity's preservation work, so it's a win-win for everyone.”

The Open Energi equipment works in tandem with the Trust's own pump control systems to provide a second-by second grid balancing service, which does not compromise our requirement to pump water.

Last Edited: 09 September 2013

photo of a location on the canals
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