200-year old canal helps make the tea during Coronation Street

Posted: Tuesday 10th September 2013

A two-centuries old Wiltshire landmark is helping millions of people enjoy cups of tea during TV adverts and breaks in major sporting events, thanks to innovative technology.

The Canal & River Trust has 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 adverts 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 buildings, provides a green and affordable solution. It is the first time the canal network has been used for this purpose.

Pumps at Caen Hill lock flight – one of the wonders of the waterways - 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 17million of us were glued to our TVs watching 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 we were busy cheering Andy and not making cups of tea.

The technology earns the Trust – the charity that cares for 2,000 miles of waterways across England and Wales – approximately £17,000 per year, as well as contributing to CO2 footprint savings.

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 X Factor, remember there’s part of a historic waterway going to sleep for a few seconds 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, but they won’t switch if they are busy - and 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 the Trust’s requirement to pump water.

Read the magazine online

May 2021

About the magazine »
Magazine archive »


Information for advertisers »

Pulsar New Banner
Huber Cranfield University British Water Pulsar Button June 13 Water Aid buttonwood marketing Harvey Communications wateractive