The Brighton Power Stations

At the Durrington Community Centre – 8th March, 1989.

In a detailed and extensive talk the generation of electricity in Brighton was traced from its beginning in 1881 to the closing down of the last machine at Brighton B on 23rd March, 1987. This is probably the longest continuous line of supply in one town in the World.

It began when Magnus Volk drove a Siemens dynamo from the layshaft of a steam roller to light a concert at the Royal Pavilion. Business folk became interested and the first permanent plant was established by Robert Hammond in Reed’s Iron Foundry in Gloucester Road, which commenced operation 21st January, 1882. A 21 HP Robey steam engine drove a Brush arc lighting dynamo, output 10a, 800v, supplying 16 arc lamps in series. Before the end of the year demand increased to 40 arc lights. This was the Hammond Electric Light and Power Co. The Engineer and Manager, Arthur Wright, devised an automatic regulator to replace the “volt boy”, whose efforts were too erratic!

The Hammond company was succeeded by the Brighton Electric Light Co., which commissioned a new station next to the first in 1885. Three Brush dynamos supplying 40 arc lights in series (10.5a 1800v) were driven by semi-portable Fowler engines each mounted beneath a locomotive type boiler. In 1888 a.c. was installed to supply 200 customers at 2 kV, each consumer having a transformer stepping down to 100v.

In 1890 Brighton Corporation constructed their own station in North Road, nearby, and opened it in 1891. It had four generators totalling 330 kw, at 115v.d.c. By 1904 the capacity had increased to 5.9 MW with the largest engine of 825 B.H.P.
Problems inevitably arose from noise and dirt – transporting coal into and ash out of a city centre site. On the advice of Arthur Wright the present site between harbour and sea at Shoreham was purchased, to use seaborne coal and sea water cooling. Work commenced in 1902 and the new station named Southwick opened in 1906. There were three M.V. turbo-alternators, each 1.8 MW running at 1500 r.p.m., 8 kV, 50 Hz with a 1 hour overload capacity cf 33% . The new station was connected by five 8 kV cables to the old North Road site where there were two 1500 kW rotary converters (the largest to that time) and four 500 kW motor generators. These replaced some of the earlier generators – the last of which was removed in 1908.

The new building was large, reflecting the optimism of the day, so that with only a small addition it eventually contained 190 MW generating capacity. In 1924 two oil fired 40k lb/hr boilers were added, three of the original boilers already being converted to oil firing, with a 6MW 3000 r.p.m. machine. The original machines had been replaced beforehand by much more efficient ones, so that steam raising capacity did not have to be increased.

Pulverised coal boilers were installed in 1929 with similar steam conditions to the older ones – 250 Lb/, 625°F. The burners were located at the corners of the furnace. They were dogged with problems until an explosion in the P.F. bunker sealed the fate of the “Bin and Feeder” arrangement used.

Under the 1926 Electricity Act Southwick became a “Selected Station” and soon afterwards was connected to the new 132 k.V Grid at Fishergate Sub-station.

After this, new boilers saw a reversion to stoker firing with steam conditions increased to 650 lb/ and 850 F. Two of the existing turbines were re bladed for the higher temperature to work with a 6 MW “topping turbine” to reduce the pressure. A 30 MW Parsons machine was also installed – reputed to be a frustrated export order, greatly enhancing the economics of the plant.

This station – known as Brighton A, following the advent of the B station later – is best remembered for its Brush L jungstrom turbines, the largest installation in this country. The first were two 30 MW, and a 50 MW machine was installed in 1945, the largest set ever made by the Brush Co. All were 4 pole 1500 r.p.m. The unique design with radial steam flow through interleaving contra rotation rotors eliminated thick cylinders, and associated expansion problems, so providing facility for quick start from cold and a rapid response to system load changes. This characteristic was fully exploited by the Grid Control Engineers. It was perhaps unfortunate that, the rapidly changing loads and wide range of fuels used made it impossible for the boilers to keep to steam temperature variations within the limits set by the turbine maker, leading to certain failures – notwithstanding which, the machines performed remarkably well during the war. The design was abandoned by the British power supply industry in the 1950s as it could not be used for the larger sizes required.

When Southwick was commissioned good quality sea borne coal from the N.E. could be obtained for 14s. (delivered) a ton: in 1980 it was £30, and the quality had deteriorated. In the same period efficiency had risen from 15% to 30%. Thermal efficiency is largely a matter of design; skilled operators can merely keep the plant in trim. Consequently operators of power plant concentrate on the cost of the heat bought in the fuel, particularly so after the commercial competition came along within the Grid System. Fuel suitability in purchasing in favour of price was neglected at a severe cost, in combustion problems, maintenance and poor availability of the boilers. Post war shortages often led to unsuitable fuel being delivered with similar consequences.

With the development of pulverised coal burning, used in the later stages of A station and of B station, came the opening of a commercial market for the ash in building materials and large construction work such as motor ways. Dust from Brighton A flues was settled out in beds to the west of the station and subsequently dumped at sea. The settling area became the site of the B station and the fine ash and dust was processed for construction purposes and proved more profitable than dumping at sea!

The new station was approved immediately after World War 2 for a capacity of 320 MW, It was to be one of the last “cathedrals of power”, a reference to its stately architecture. The first pile was ceremonially driven 25th November 1947, and the first machine synchronised December 1952, Very soon in this period the industry was nationalised, 1st April 1948, and the new management changed the design so that the in-line sets faced alternate ways allowing two to be operated by one man. Contracts were awarded to Richardsons Westgarth instead of the proposed M.V.E.Co. in order to distribute the heavy post-war manufacturing programme more equittably. The first four machines were quite conventional, rated 55.5 MW, 3 cylinder turbines with air cooled alternators. The last two, rated 60 MW, had the new design with hydrogen cooled alternators. The turbines were unique with two cylinders and four exhausts. Step valve steam conditions were 900 lbs./

The prevailing wind from the two 350 feet chimneys of the B station crosses some cf the most highly rated residential areas of Sussex, The reduction of grit emmission was therefore important. The early designs of cyclone separators (60% efficient) in series with electrostatic precipitators (87% efficient) gave an overall efficiency of 95% initially. But this quickly fell away as the cyclones choked. Furthermore the plume from the very fine dust was highly visible. The experience led to the Generating Board concentrating on improving electrostatic precipitators rather than using “combined plant”

The considerable exposure of the power station site to salt pollution attracted the attention of researchers for developing 400 kV outdoor equipment. A rig for 900 kV testing was built alongside the power station and established an international reputation over the years.

The station has inevitably had close links with the harbour. For the 1939 extension supplies of cooling water from the harbour were insufficient and a pumping station was installed on the tidal side of the lock, condenser discharge being either to sea via a new outfall or to the harbour. This was vertually duplicated for the B station in the early 50’s, enabling the harbour level to be raised above high tide. The station thus became responsible for the level in the harbour; to the Harbour Master’s requirements. Circulating condenser cooling water in the harbour was forbidden as it was feared the warm water would encourage growth of Teredo Worm.

As nationalisation plans were in being to allow increased size of ships into the harbour from 1500 to 2500 tons, dead weight with an expected import of 400,000 tons of coal per year. These figures were raised to 3,500 tons (4,500 tons on spring tides) and 900,000 tons of coal a year. The B.E.A, installed new break waters, a new lock and carried out extensive dredging.

From the small beginning at Gloucester Road to the closure of the B station in March 1987 some 50 Bn, units were sent out, and 26 million tons of fuel consumed. The maximum output was 500 MW. In 106 years the enterprise made a considerably greater contribution to local prosperity and engineering progress than is often credited to it.