Pupils at Strathdearn Primary School have been getting a unique insight into the planning and logistical tasks behind the delivery of two 194-tonne transformers to Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks’ (SSEN) newly constructed Tomatin Substation.

SSEN’s Tomatin substation will play an important part in the country’s transition to a low carbon economy, as it will enable the growing number of renewable generators across the north of Scotland to connect to the UK transmission network. At the heart of the new substation sit two 194-tonne transformers that have been manufactured in Milan, transported by boat via Venice to Inverness and then delivered down the A9 to Tomatin by specialist road hauliers.

Given their size and the various modes of transport that were used as part of the transformers’ installation, SSEN’s project team thought that their pan-continental journey could lend itself to an interesting project for the local primary school pupils, and so contacted Judith Pirie, Headteacher at Strathdearn Primary School.

SSEN’s project manager, Alistair Muir, explains more: “We’re keen to be a good neighbour and are always looking for ways to engage with the local community to let them know about the work we’re doing nearby. With the transformers coming all the way from Italy we thought it would be an interesting journey for the local school children to get involved with, as well as learning more about our new substation which has been built nearby.”

Before the transformers set sail from Italy, members of SSEN’s project team visited Strathdearn Primary School to meet the pupils, give them a breakdown of the journey to Tomatin, examine the technical challenges in delivering the transformers to a remote location and also explain how the new substation will help renewable generation connect to the UK electricity network.

The children were encouraged to examine the technical and logistical challenges of delivering the transformers to a remote location and enjoyed questioning SSEN on the techniques and specialised equipment and vehicles involved. Everything from canal barges to sea-going cargo ships, cranes, heavy-lift quays, bridges, and heavy-lift transportation vehicles was examined to ensure the transformers were safely delivered to site. The pupils’ mini-project also included a visit to the public viewpoint to view the transformers arriving on site.

Alistair said that it was important that whenever he and the team were meeting the pupils they avoided jargon and technical talk, and kept the subject matter fun and engaging:

“The electricity network can be quite a complex subject, but it’s also one that lots of children are interested in so it’s important that we made it as easy as possible to understand. Before we went to the school we all put our thinking caps on and tried to come up with ways to explain the project in an easy to follow format. We kept everything very visual, and also made use of the ‘vesselfinder’ website which let the children follow the transformers’ journey across the water from Italy to Inverness. We also developed some ‘fun facts’, such as the weight of one transformer is equivalent to 43 elephants!”

Judith Pirie, Headteacher at Strathdearn Primary School, said that the mini-project was very much in line with current initiative in education to generate an interest in, and connections with, careers associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and was also useful for illustrating the wide range of employment roles that are out there. She also said that the pupils enjoyed meeting the teams from SSEN and their contractor Amey, and it gave them a fascinating insight into what was a very complex technical operation.

Since the deliveries took place, the pupils have written ‘thank you’ letters to all at the substation site for their involvement with the mini-project. The letters have been warmly received by everyone on site and will be proudly displayed on the wall.

Judith said: “On behalf of everyone at the school I’d like to say thank you for inviting us be involved with this project. We all found it very interesting and enjoyable, and I’m sure it is something the pupils will remember for many years to come, and may even inspire some to consider a career in the electricity industry or other STEM careers as they get older.”

The above photo shows Judith Pirie and Alistair Muir alongside the pupils from Strathdearn Primary School.

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