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Crucial item from Edinburgh’s energy history goes on display at National Museum of Scotland


A gallery which showcases Scotland’s history with electricity and the technology utilised to keep the lights on has been officially opened in Edinburgh, funded by the ScottishPower Foundation.

The Energise gallery at the National Museum of Scotland features a large insulator string which formed part of the high voltage transmission equipment from a sub-station used by the long-demolished Portobello Power Station, which helped to power the city of Edinburgh for over half a century.

The gallery was officially opened by Ignacio Galán, the chairman of ScottishPower and Iberdrola on Tuesday, December 13. The item was among several donated by the energy company, and went on public display for the first time in July.

He was joined by Bruce Minto, Chair of National Museums Scotland and Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy.

Portobello Power Station was built by the Edinburgh Corporation in 1923 to cope with the increasing demand for electricity at a time when the city’s population was rapidly increasing and opened by King George V.

It was one of the most efficient in Britain and produced enough energy to light the streets, run the trams and meet the domestic energy requirements for all of Edinburgh with an initial capacity of 37.5MW – equivalent to a small windfarm today.

In comparison, ScottishPower’s extension to its Ewe Hill windfarm near Lockerbie will see 16 turbines produces 37MW. Where that was once enough to power the capital city, with today’s energy use it provides power to around 20,000 homes.

Portobello Power Station was demolished in 1978 after being superseded by larger, new power stations at Cockenzie – now also demolished – and Longannet, which closed earlier this year. The insulator string continued to be used up until 1990 when the sub-station it was housed within was decommissioned.

The gallery focuses on exploring the global challenges in harnessing energy today and achievements in the development of renewables technology. The exhibits also showcase the important role Scotland has played in the development of renewables across the world.

Energise is one of 10 new galleries of applied art, design, fashion, science and technology at the National Museum of Scotland. In the first three months following their opening the National Museum welcomed 600,000 visitors, an increase of over 30 per cent on the same period last year.

They represent the most recent phase of the ambitious £80 million Masterplan to transform the National Museum of Scotland. Completed in the 150th anniversary year of the Victorian building, which first opened in 1866, the new displays champion excellence and innovation, offering an inspirational experience for the scientists, engineers, artists and designers of tomorrow.

Ignacio Galán, Chairman of ScottishPower and Iberdrola, said: “I’m delighted to open the Energise gallery, funded by the ScottishPower Foundation. The National Museum of Scotland is a fitting location to celebrate the contribution the electricity sector has made to the nation and to demonstrate how quickly technology is changing from the infrastructures of the past to the renewables and smart grids that power our future.  The contribution of the next generation of Scottish women and men will be essential to realise this vision.”

Bruce Minto, Chair of National Museums Scotland, said: “I am delighted to welcome Ignacio Galan to the National Museum of Scotland. The support of the ScottishPower Foundation both in funding this ground-breaking gallery and our associated learning programmes has been fundamental to its success.

“We look forward to continuing this fruitful partnership as we help our visitors explore, through the Energise gallery, the different sources of energy which power our everyday lives.”

Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy said: “Scotland has played a vital role in the development of renewable energies across the world.

“This interactive gallery is a fantastic opportunity to inspire a new generation who can shape Scotland’s energy future and a more sustainable future for our planet.”

It is hoped future exhibits may include items from Longannet, Scotland’s last coal-fired power station which closed earlier this year as owner ScottishPower continues to invest substantially in renewable energy.

Notes to editors:

  • National Museums Scotland is one of the leading museum groups in the UK and Europe and it looks after collections of national and international importance. The organisation provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display.
  • The National Museum of Scotland is the most popular museum in the country outside of London (source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions). The National Museum of Scotland was awarded ‘Gold’ Level Green Tourism Visitor Attraction status in 2016.