Historic power network opens doors to the public

Hundreds of visitors caught a rare glimpse into the UK’s oldest low carbon energy network last weekend.

Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (PDHU) again opened its doors to the public for the annual Open House London event, 20 – 21 September. Managed on behalf of Westminster City Council by leading housing provider CityWest Homes, PDHU is situated on Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico.

During the event, Londoners can explore behind the closed doors of some of the capital’s most spectacular, exclusive and unusual landmarks – all for free. PDHU has continued to be a popular venue, with historical roots dating back to the 1950s. It was the first initiative of its kind to combat London’s notorious smog, ahead of the Clean Air Act of 1956. Today, the Grade II listed building provides heating and hot water services to 3,256 homes, 50 businesses and three schools via 5km of heating pipework.

Visitors toured the historic facility and enjoyed spectacular views from the roof of the accumulator tower, which is the UK’s largest thermal store. The unique vantage point offers panoramic views across London, taking in Canary Wharf, Big Ben and the Shard.

Phil Jenkins, asset development and property director, CityWest Homes, visited the PDHU with his family. He said: “It was incredible to see PDHU first hand. Behind the scenes, it was fascinating to see how the unit efficiently generates and supplies affordable energy. It was fun for the family and though the ladder-climbing was a challenge, particularly for my younger daughter, the views at the top of the accumulator were well worth the climb.

“PDHU is a great asset for Westminster. Over 3,000 properties are efficiently heated without the need for individual central heating boilers, in addition to generating revenue from the sale of electricity. While the network is relatively small, it’s proving to be a leading example in the future of localised energy generation. It is all the more impressive when you consider it has been so for 60 years. I would like to thank all the CityWest Homes staff and other volunteers who served to make our day so special.”

Over 200 visitors took the challenge to climb the tower, which consists of seven ladders. One visitor, Paul Perry, said: “I really enjoyed the tour. You learn about energy, local history and the community. The building itself is a surprise too – it seems small but once you’re inside you see just how much there is to it. I’d definitely come back again.”

PDHU saves 11,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually by displacing coal fired electricity generation – the equivalent of taking almost 4,000 cars off the road each year.

As the oldest district heating facility in the country, PDHU is at the vanguard of Boris Johnson’s drive to produce 25% of the capital’s power from local sources by 2025.

David Wickersham, technical adviser, CityWest Homes, said: “PDHU is one of London’s hidden gems, and we are delighted to once again give people the chance to discover it.

“It occupies a unique position in the history of sustainable energy generation, and its role will only grow as we continue to look for greener ways to power the capital.

“PDHU has proved a popular attraction ever since it was first opened to the public as part of the Open House London weekend, and we look forward to welcoming many more visitors for years to come.”

Photograph captions
One of our youngest visitors, Sebastian, (five months old), takes his first look at district heating

Image 2: The iconic PDHU tower – ready for this year’s climbers.

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