Industry: water, steel & energy

Gronow, Colin (4 of 9). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-10-22, 2014-10-18, 2014-12-16, 2015-01-31

  • Interviewees

    Gronow, Colin, 1929- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Remarks on starting at CEGB: limitations of CG knowledge of electricity when he began; CG limited understanding of local distribution networks when he left CEGB; CG in 20s and with limited wider knowledge at time he joined; CG working in office in Buchanan House in Holborn with part of Operations Department, later transfer to offices near St Paul's Cathedral; [pause 3:30] CG job as statistician in Efficiency and Operational Research branch; anecdote about CG boss [Ted Emery] preoccupation with developing a statistical method for judging power station efficiency; [05:05] Comments on development of new method for judging power station performance: new Chief Operations Engineer Arthur Hawkins forming working party to find new method; Hawkins' desire for a way of monitoring the performance of CEGB regional managers; outline of method for comparing power station actual performance against its design performance on a monthly basis; difficulty obtaining performance statistics for little used small power stations; description of how power stations were grouped into performance leagues; collecting of design and actual power station performance; CG future wife Rosemary doing calculations for performance tests; [09:49] description of Willan's line on plant efficiency graph; ease of efficiency calculations on power stations run constantly at full load, compared to complications of data on power stations shifting on and off and used below full capacity; description of method in use to monitor station performance; Hawkins' hope for a way of measuring station performance to hold regional directors to account; outline of Hawkins' responsibilities for CEGB operations; [15:00] work resulting in the STEP Factor [Station Thermal Efficiency Performance]; anecdote about STEP factor still being used 20 years later; STEP factor unconnected to Merit Order used for power station scheduling; quarterly use of STEP factor at director's meetings; STEP factor most significant piece of work CG did at CEGB; importance of obtaining data from power station managers, which became routine. [18:20] Remarks on Arthur Hawkins: tough manager; anecdote about Hawkins' response to CG suggestion to shake up other group of under-performing engineers; explanation of Hawkins' management style of requiring people to perform at their potential; stories circulating about Hawkins' tough management style; Hawkins' later becoming CEGB chairman. [20:05] Remarks on: CG gentlemanly boss Ted Emery, in his 50s, fixated in search for efficiency formula; 15-20 people in group; colleague keeping up ledger of power station plant; many staff still in group when CG visited from later post in SSEB; group mostly engineers, some mathematicians, some numerate engineers; separation of work from actual engineering; friendly working atmosphere; outline of typical day, pub lunches with colleagues; CG hour long commute from Farnborough, travelling with regular travel friends; commonality of commuting amongst Londoners; [28:00] CG work involving much telephoning and travelling around UK; CG visits to power station giving him an understanding of the industry, anecdote about power station staff viewing him as a head office man; CG future wife Rosemary doing calculations in group, CG suggesting she go on course on early English Electric Deuce computer, allowing easier access to computing facilities; CG looking for a different and challenging job, only appreciating there was a career path in CEGB later; non-engineers' career prospects limited in CEGB. [37:00] [cont' from 37:00] Comments on CG operational research work on CEGB control centres: CG visit to Bankside National Control centre and seven regional centres; CG sitting with staff to study their work and judgement over load managing; minute by minute matching of electricity demand and supply at control centres; running of power stations by order of cost, complicated by operating constraints of particular power stations; controllers developing detailed understanding of power station characteristics and load demands, but occasionally making mistakes; CG not finding way of improving control centre performance; [41:40] CG hopes to develop system to better manage control centres unfulfilled due to skill of operators; experienced controllers' shrewd understanding of personnel running power stations as well as capabilities of machines; description of Grid control centres in 1950s; novel idea at time of applying statistics to workplace, only two statisticians in CEGB at time; possibility for improving grid control centres proposed by CG, partly to get out of office and see other parts of industry; control centres all slightly different, unrealised possibility of transferring good practice within industry. [46:30] Remarks on: other statistician Stan Baker, a devout Catholic; CEGB engineering dominated organisation; CG colleagues in small OR unit under John Stringer finding new ways to optimise plant overhaul; Operational Research staff busy improving efficiency of power stations; CEGB headquarters over manned and over managed, operational staff in the field performing well independently; outlines over managed nature of department with manager John Stringer, Ted Emery and Parkinson; Arthur Hawkins by passing Ted Emery to put CG on committee with Parkinson, the only time CG worked with Parkinson directly; [52:00] little contact between other groups, except for with OR group, CG later recruiting former OR unit mathematician Clive Myers to SSEB; CG group working away from CEGB headquarters. [53:30] Remarks on life outside work: long work days limiting activities, CG continuing to play tennis with RAE and bridge with Institute of Aviation Medicine; CG children; CG wife teaching domestic science; CG never taking work home; CG studying PhD part time until aged c.30, studying at weekends. [56:30] Remarks on CG PhD: supervisor Dr David suggesting CG study MSc, then a part time PhD; subject on affects of assumptions on value of statistical tests; example of statistical tests applied to tomato growing; CG unsure of funding arrangements; mixed progress through PhD, taking 7 years in total; anecdote about CG failing first viva examination, to Dr David's annoyance at external examiner; anecdote about CG having to unbind PhD thesis to do further work; prestige of completing PhD. [1:03:10] Further remarks on CEGB: anecdote about CG aim to achieve £2000 salary by 30; CG leaving CEGB aged 34 to join SSEB, £5000 salary by age of 36; comparisons of salary and housing prices; anecdote about benefits of good CEGB car allowances; CEGB air travel by first class even at relatively junior grades. [1:08:40] [cont' from 1:08:40] Comments on Space Heating Working Party: Electricity Council member Tony Lingard's concern over growth of peak load and lowering load factor; definition of peak load, maximum load during winter; CEGB installation of new plant to meet peak load disproportionately expensive; Lingard asking Arthur Hawkins to assign CEGB personnel to Space Heating Working Party; problems caused by increasing use of directing acting electric heaters; CG sitting on weekly meeting of working party for 2 years to investigate electric heating; working party member Jim Boggis installing half hour electricity usage meters in domestic loads to provide data sample which allowed domestic electricity usage to be plotted on a curve; [1:15:00] Boggis comparing industrial, domestic and commercial loads, revealing problems with domestic load causing peak. [1:15:55] Remarks on working party visit to 1963 Norway to investigate space heating: anecdote about aircraft needing defrosting before flight; anecdote about Area Board members of committee travelling by boat, Lingard's wife forbidding him to fly; group also including LSE economist Paul Edey; description of Norwegian load rate metering, which encouraged people to use low levels of power; triple glazing adding to energy efficiency. [1:20:00] Further remarks on storage heating: Trevor Churchman's development of storage heating at Capenhurst; plan to encourage use of storage heaters through advertising and selling storage heaters through electricity board shops; storage heaters initially running at night but needing a daytime boost, Trevor Churchman improving design to remove need for boost; Economy 7 tariff later developed when storage heater technology improved; group trying to manage industry usage and costs; description of the development of different tariffing arrangements to support storage heating, culminating in Economy 7; [1:25:20] CG and Jim Boggis providing much data on energy usage; description of Jim Boggis, dedicated engineering genius, later working for CG when he joined Electricity Council. [1:26:50] Remarks on: CG not having other contacts with Electricity Council at CEGB; CG enjoying work for CEGB but not seeing it had a future; Ted Emery suggestion that CG move to OR; OR work more hands on in workplaces than statistics work; over-imaginative OR boss John Stringer; outline of typical OR job, discussion of possible jobs suggested by Stringer; Stringer generating uses for OR in CEGB. anecdote about discarding of Stringer's more outrageous ideas.

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