Bankside Beauty

A world famous art gallery

The Tate Modern is one of the most iconic buildings in Britain today. Today it hosts some of the world’s finest modern and contemporary art from Ai Weiwei to Warhol. This building however did play an important part in London’s electricity supply and its unusual shape and notoriety is far less well known than that of the Battersea Power Station just down the river

Bankside power station

There has been a power station at Bankside since 1891. Initially it supplied power to the City but over the years its importance grew to the energy landscape of London. As a coal fired station, through the early 20thcentury it drew criticism due to the emissions it caused over the city. The station was expanded and modified through the years and it was brought into the British Electricity Authority in 1948. It was seen as an old and dirty power plant by then with a thermal efficiency of only 15.82%. Plans were being put together to develop a new modern plant on the site. Initially it was to be a coal fired station however plans were changed in the design phase in 1947 due to the power and coal shortage. This was to be the first oil fired power plant of its kind in the UK.

Construction was in two phases so that the original power station could coexist with the first units coming online. The famous building with its recognisable tower was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was responsible the world-famous red telephone boxes (K-series) alongside Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Its massive structure stands opposite the famous London landmark of St. Paul’s Cathedral however the famous chimney stack at 99m tall is ever so slightly shorter than that of St Paul’s.

Ultimately the choice of putting a big 300MW capacity oil power station on this site led to its end. It was not closed because of the environmental issues as the plant had been fitted with several measures including desulphurisation which removed over 97% of sulphur compounds. It was the oil price rises from 1973 onwards that led to the demise of the plant which could burn 67 tonnes of oil per hour. The plant closed on 31stOctober 1981 and the site lay idle until 1994 when the Tate Gallery announced that the site would be redeveloped and it took until the year 2000 when the Tate Modern opened. It’s energy story however ran until 2006 as there was still an electrical substation within the building which has now been decommissioned.

The present

Today you can visit the Tate Modern and all visitors are awe struck by their visits. The Turbine hall is around 150m long and the massive space is a reminder of the massive industrial units that once existed within. This space could so easily have been lost but has been transformed into a space that millions of people now enjoy and is a physical memory of previous industrial heritage.

The future

From the cafe on the 6thfloor, you can view London and it’s amazing to look down to the right to see a small part of the future. Blackfriars bridge is covered in 4,400 solar panels, quietly and cleanly generating 900MWh of electricity a year.