Domeremember - The Getaway: Lockerbie to Inverness

On 16 March the Sustainable Energy Systems class visited Steven’s Croft power station in Lockerbie. The trip was really needed as we had just completed the Tulliemet hydro project and the Sri Lankan power project, both of which had been very hectic. The trip felt like a sort of escape for us after a stressful period. Steven’s Croft is the largest dedicated biomass power station in Scotland. It generates 48MW of electric power, out of which 4MW is used internally while the rest is exported to the grid. It burns 60 tonnes of biomass every hour and requires 480,000 tonnes a year, and consequently saves 140,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Power generated at the plant meets the energy needs of 70,000 households. 60% of its fuel mix comes from nearby forestry industry, 20% from short rotation coppice willow, and 20% from recycled fibre from wood production manufacture.  Since the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned is basically the same as that absorbed by the plant while growing up, it is a greener alternative to fossil fuels.

We were received at their purpose-built visitor centre which looks like a nice modern wood cabin in my opinion. We were then talked through the history and operations of the plant. After that, it was time for the tour. We were divided into three groups. With tours like this, it is important that you are in an exciting group and I was lucky to be in one. When I say an exciting group, I mean a group that has the right balance of seriousness and mischievousness. We started out with an overview of the site’s plan, then proceeded to the fuel processing facility, fuel storage facility, fuel conveyor, boiler house, steam turbine and generator, air-cooled condenser system, and finally the administration building and control room. At the boiler house, our tour guide asked whether we would like to climb to the roof. We said yes. So up we went. The wind was so strong that it felt like we were going to be blown off the roof. It was then that I realised I had a little phobia for heights, maybe just a wee bit. The air-cooled condenser system was interesting too. It has a fan that sucks air from the bottom and blows it through the condenser pipes. When we went inside it blew air into our coats making us look like little versions of the “incredible hulk.” All in all, the trip was fun and interesting.

The following day, I went on a trip to Inverness. There had been a forecast of a “mini beast” heading for Edinburgh that weekend which made me wonder whether embarking on the trip was sensible. What if we were cut in a snow storm? Luckily, there was only a little sign of snow before we left which soon cleared. However, after driving for about 30 minutes we encountered serious snow. Then after another hour or so the sun came up, though it was still snowing. The reflection of sunlight from ice-covered hills on either side of the road was just breath-taking. Then the snow stopped or we drove past it. While locations behind us were being bombarded with snow, it was so sunny ahead of us it felt like we had just been teleported somewhere totally different.

About three and half hours after leaving Edinburgh, we got to our first stop, the famous Loch Ness. We were there to see the Urquhart Castle Grant Tower whose name sounded like it was intentionally coined to make sure people are not able to pronounce it. When I saw it, I was disappointed as it was not a standing castle but just the ruins of a castle that once was, or so we were told. We basically travelled for over 3 hours just to see some broken-down walls, which were not even levitating or doing something interesting. Plus, it was so cold! About 2 hours later we left for the city of Inverness. At Inverness, we got something to eat and then went to see the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery which had some amazing stuff. After wandering about for a while and going over the most wobbly bridge ever built, we ended up in a Cathedral with some very delicious biscuits. Then it was time to get back to Edinburgh. At a point during the return trip, the sky and the hills seemed to merge together in a huge mass of whiteness. It was just lovely. We drove with snow-covered hills on either side for over an hour. Then suddenly we entered a long stretch of green patch. Somehow, it seemed the snow was afraid or had negotiated a pack with the patch not to whiten it. From then, the scenery alternated between green and white, like the Nigerian flag.

At about 7pm we arrived back at Edinburgh with no sign of snow. I was about to comment that the MET office got the forecast wrong when, as if to say, “not so fast,” it started snowing. It was like the snow was specifically waiting for us. At that moment I felt there was something frivolous about Edinburgh’s weather. We all scurried to our various beds and drew the duvet over what had been an eventful day.

Urquhart Castle Grant Tower
 Steven’s Croft power station, Lockerbie
Snow in the Highlands of Scotland