If you walk along the avenue of horse chestnut trees in Woking Park, you may notice a statue standing with its back to you, just underneath the flumes at Pool in the Park. Don’t take it personally – he faces that way because he is looking admiringly at the long-term results of the scientific experiments he did back in 1839.
The statue is of Welsh physicist William Grove, 1811-1896, who invented the fuel cell. Fuel cells are a type of battery that can produce energy as long as a constant source of fuel (usually hydrogen) and oxygen are supplied. The only by-product is water, making them an ecologically sound source of energy. Fuel cells have a wide variety of applications from powering public transport to heating buildings. They’ve taken buses across cities and rockets to space.
What William Grove’s statue is looking at is the UK’s first fuel cell power station (combined heat and power plant, or CHP), which provides power to Pool in the Park. The Grove cell, which he invented in 1839, was developed into a CHP to run a whole building. The Woking Park CHP was installed in 2003, and there are now many others around the country. Their efficiency is admirable – because they serve a geographically small area, a lot less heat is lost between the CHP and the building it is serving than when a building receives power from the national grid. CHPs are green, cheap and quiet – the ideal solution for powering buildings anywhere.
Nearly two decades on from the building of the fuel cell power station in Woking Park, Woking is building a much larger one. Having seen the advantages of CHPs, ThamesWey Energy is building a new one near Goldsworth Road. This CHP will provide power for the new residential towers in the centre of town, as well as to the new shops and the Hilton Doubletree.
It’s reassuring to think that green energy will power Woking’s many new homes. You couldn’t build a conventional power station in a town centre, but a zero-emission CHP is a great solution. The new CHP has been designed to be scalable, so that capacity can be increased as necessary. The more power we use in our homes, the more necessary it is to find green ways of providing it.
So next time you’re in Woking Park, pop into the little garden under the flumes and say a quick “thank you” to William Grove. His pioneering work has been developed incrementally by scientists over the last two hundred years and is now going to bring green energy to Woking’s new homes – maybe even yours.
- CHP in Woking: Charlotte Buchanan