Lot's Road Power Station

Electrification of London's Underground railways began in 1890. There was no National Grid and operating companies had to generate their own electricity. The early Underground railways all had their own small power stations. Permission for a giant generating station at Lots Road was granted in 1897 and the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company was formed in 1901 to build and operate the plant. It opened in 1905.

Lots Road soon supplied power to most of the Underground system, and later to the tram and trolleybus networks. It later supplied Chiswick Works, the railway depots at Ealing and Acton, and powered station facilities such as escalators and lifts. There were also two smaller power stations at Greenwich and Neasden.

Lots Road was designed by James Russell Chapman for the Underground Group (U.E.R.L.). The power station operated on three levels. First, fuel was converted into energy through combustion in boilers that produced high-pressure steam. Second, the steam was passed through a turbine to convert it from heat to mechanical energy; and third, the energy generated by the steam turning the turbines was converted into electrical energy by the alternator.

Lots Road stands at the junction of the Thames and the Chelsea Creek. It had its own dock for the delivery of coal and, later, oil. It used 700 tonnes of coal a day to heat its boilers, and had a capacity of between 40,000 and 50,000 kilowatts of energy. Electricity was generated at 11,000 volts. In the boiler house, 32 coal-burning boilers produced 16,000 pounds of steam per hour at 500 Fahrenheit. The generator room housed eight turbo-generators with a 6,000-kilowatt capacity. In the basement, pumps took water from the Thames to use in the boilers. The water was also used in the cooling system, which converted the used steam back into water for recycling. A few years after opening, three more turbo-generators were added with a capacity of 15,000 kilowatts.

By the 1920s, increasing demands for power meant that the plant needed to be remodelled. This was completed in 1932. The old turbo-alternators were replaced by nine new ones, and 32 new boilers were added, producing 39,000 pounds of steam an hour at 650 Fahrenheit. Capacity was increased to 105,000 kilowatts.

During the Second World War, women were taken on in jobs such as fitters' mates and boiler cleaners, to fill vacancies left as men enlisted. Minor alterations to protect the plant during air raids included bricking up the windows. However, there was only one direct hit: damage was caused when a bomb landed on the west end of the boiler house.

As the National Grid developed, it was thought important to keep London's transport electricity supply separate. This would prevent loss of power during any failure in national supply, which would be particularly dangerous if trains were stuck underground. But in 1960, London Transport decided that the overground sections of track in northwest London could be supplied from the National Grid. Neasden power station was closed and production at Greenwich reduced. As a result, especially in view of the opening of the new Victoria line in 1968, Lots Road needed to be modernised again. Redevelopment and conversion from coal to oil fuel was finished in 1969. Six new oil-fired boilers were installed producing 330,000 pounds of steam an hour at 935 Fahrenheit. Six new turbo-alternators generated electricity at 30,000 kilowatts capacity, at 22,000 volts.

Rising oil prices in the 1970s, and environmental concerns, influenced the decision to convert Lots Road to gas fuel in 1977. The resulting lower emissions reduced the number of chimneys needed from four to two. Environmental concerns remained, however, particularly over the cooling system. This used water from the Thames at a rate of 8,000,000 gallons an hour. Although the water was cleaned before being returned to the river, the water temperature was increased by 2-3 degrees.

By the 1980s, the cost of generating at Lots Road was significantly greater than that of buying power. In 1985, it was decided that power would be supplied by the National Grid, and that emergency generators only would be retained at Lots Road. However, shortly after this the electricity industry was privatised. Since then, various partnership schemes between London Underground and private suppliers have been proposed, and the closure of Lots Road was agreed. After more than 90 years of operation, the power station was due for closure in 1997. It eventually closed in 2001.

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