The Forth Bridge, and mastering water power today

3 min read

News editor Briefing looks both forward and backward today, marking the anniversary of one of Britain’s most iconic Victorian structures and the announcement of bold plans in tidal energy

There is something of a nostalgic feel to this week’s Briefing with a nod to the 125th anniversary of the Forth Bridge opening in 1890, and the Royal Mail issuing a set of stamps that celebrate Britain’s bridge-building heritage.

While its quite right to marvel at a structure built in the Victorian era that is still fully functional today (and, of course, our predecessors were there to write about it, The Engineer being another 19th century relic which still fulfils its original purpose), plans unveiled today propose structures designed to deliver 120 years of continuous energy generation thanks entirely to the use of the tides.

As already mentioned, Royal Mail will this week issue 10 stamps showing a range of bridge designs from clapper and stone arch to suspension and bowstring girder.

Royal Mail laudably state that the stamp issue, due on Thursday, will celebrate ‘the leaps in engineering that have seen the UK’s bridges evolve from humble stone crossings to dramatic symbolic landmarks conceived by progressive architects.’

Structures in the range include Pulteney Bridge in Bath, Menai Suspension Bridge, Tees Transporter Bridge, and Humber Bridge.

Clydesdale Bank is taking the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Forth Bridge a step further with the issue of a new £5 note to mark the occasion. What sets this commemorative note apart from other is that it will be the first item of currency issued in mainland Britain to be made from a synthetic polymer. This forms part of the bank’s strategy to introduce polymer notes – in this case, made on De La Rue’s Safeguard substrate – over those made on a traditional cotton based substrate.

Forth Bridge
Forth Bridge

As well as the Forth Bridge the note will also feature Sir William Arrol, whose company built the bridge, and Glasgow’s Titan Crane, which still stands on the banks of the River Clyde as a tourist attraction.

The decision to release the new note was made in May 2014. Speaking at the time, Alistair Carmichael, secretary of state for Scotland, said: ‘The Forth Bridge truly reflects Scotland’s position as a pioneer of engineering.

‘As this new note becomes part of everyday life in villages, towns, cities and communities across the country, it will serve as a fitting tribute to the vision of Sir William Arrol and all the people who have contributed to the building, maintenance and restoration of the Bridge.’

Discussions centred on the further evolution of the rail network take place this Wednesday at a seminar organised by Westminster Forum Projects. Titled Developing the UK rail network - HS2, infrastructure and investment, the seminar will look at priorities for the UK rail sector in terms of track capacity, inward investment, and the potential of regional regeneration moving into the next Parliament.

The organisers say that planned sessions also focus on the next steps for major infrastructure projects such as HS2, Crossrail and Crossrail 2, the future of UK franchising as routes are newly tendered and political parties set-out competing policy, plus the challenges facing rail companies in meeting cost-saving targets totalling £3.5bn by 2019.

Hoping to provide around eight per cent of the UK’s total energy through tidal energy is Tidal Lagoon Power which today submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment report for one of its proposed tidal lagoons between Cardiff and Newport. The company also confirmed that early feasibility work is underway relating to the delivery of four other full-scale UK tidal lagoons at Newport, West Cumbria, Colwyn Bay and Bridgwater Bay.

By Tidal Lagoon Power’s reckoning, six lagoons could meet eight per cent of Britain’s total electricity requirements for 120 years.

Today’s EIA report is for a facility with up to 90 turbines set in a 22km breakwater enclosing an area of around 70km2 with an average tidal range of 9.21m. The company says the Western landfall would be approximately 2km from the entrance to Cardiff Bay and the Eastern landfall would be approximately 2km from the mouth of the River Usk. The lagoon has a design life of 120 years, will generate power for approximately 14 hours each day and could be powered on in 2022.

A full planning application for Tidal Lagoon Cardiff is likely to be submitted in 2017, with a decision then expected in 2018. The lagoon will take up to five years to build and will have an installed capacity - dependent on final design - of between 1,800MW and 2,800MW, giving an annual output of 4TWh to 6TWh.

Finally, a new report estimates that engineering-related sectors contributed approximately £280bn in gross value added (GVA) in 2011, equivalent to 20 per cent of the UK’s total GVA. Similarly, engineering-related sectors exported goods and services valued at around £239bn in 2011, representing just under half of the total value of exports for that year.

The independent report, Assessing the economic returns of engineering research and postgraduate training in the UK, was compiled by the Technopolis group and published today by EPSRC and RAEng.

Click here to access the full report.

The report also reiterates the importance of engineering research, an area in which Lancaster University aims to excel as it prepares to open its new flagship engineering building.

The new building, which will be officially opened on March 4 by the University’s newly installed chancellor, the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, is said to house a world-class environment with specially designed workshops, teaching laboratories and office areas.

Prof Malcolm Joyce, head of the Engineering Department, said: ‘The new development will reaffirm our position in the UK. It will ensure we have the highest standard of facilities and it will raise our profile even further as a key provider of professional engineering education.’