FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Pimlico power

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 23, 2013

A rather haphazard last minute plan during Open House London 2013 took me to the Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (or PDHU as it seems to be known today) and one of the most rewarding visits that I have made in a long while. It was perhaps all the better for not knowing anything about the site before I walked in through the doors, nor what would be involved in exploring the place.

The PDHU opened in 1950, situated more or less opposite Battersea Power Station. The waste steam from the power station was used to heat water which was then pumped under the Thames to PDHU, which in turn supplied heating and hot water to the Churchill Gardens estate and other neighbouring estates.

The initiative was groundbreaking in many respects – demonstrating the possibilities of greater fuel efficiency, making significant cuts in emissions at a time when smog was proving to be a devastating killer and, not least, sparing the Thames from the discharge of waste heat at a great environmental cost.

The thermal store of PDHU and the flats the system heats

The thermal store of PDHU alongside some of the flats the system supplies hot water and heating to


The accumulator and Churchill Gardens

In order to store surplus heat an accumulator (thermal store) was constructed and it is this distinctive tower that first caught my eye as I surfed my way through the details of some 700+ buildings open this weekend. I had no idea that to get to the top involved climbing eight ladders but after some initial hesitation, joined the queue, for what one recently returned participant described as an ‘only faintly terrifying’ experience.

To my surprise I found the climb to be quite good fun, with a chance for a breather on each level between ladders. The view from the top was simply stunning, offering a quite different perspective of Battersea Power Station, Westminster and the rapid pace of construction along the Thames.

The closure of Battersea Power Station ended the supply of water from across the Thames and a shift to a coal fired boiler on-site. In 1989 the boiler was converted to gas and a major upgrade in 2006 maximised the energy efficient profile of the site, reaching a thermal efficiency of 84% (compared to 40% for a typical coal fired power station). The PDHU now provides heating and hot water for 3256 homes, 50 businesses and three schools.

Ironically, the plans to construct new flats on the site of Battersea Power Station has even raised the possibility that hot water might flow under the Thames once again – but this time in the opposite direction! It’s quite an amazing story and a fascinating site to explore.



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