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Steam to Green

Steam to Green: A North East Revolution

Published on: 26 June 2024

A free interactive exhibition will take visitors on a North East journey through the past, present and future of energy.

For two years the Discovery Museum will host an ambitious new exhibition that will inspire people of all ages to engage in the green energy revolution that is being spearheaded in the North East.

In partnership with Newcastle University, Steam to Green: A North East Energy Revolution features historic technology, state-of-the-art interactive exhibits, artwork and incredible models that chart a journey over the last 150 years exploring how North East innovators and businesses have harnessed different energy sources - from Victorian fossil fuels to the most exciting renewable energy solutions of the 21st century.

Steam to Green: A North East Energy Revolution will open on 20 July 2024 and run until 6 September 2026.

Specifically designed for all ages, the exhibition offers a fun and fantastic way for the younger generation to learn about energy and the wellbeing of the planet. And with the involvement of 18 North East businesses from the green technology sector, it will also inspire the future innovators and inventors in striving for a better future.

For hundreds of years the sight of coal would install fear in children as a symbol of misbehavior. But the enormous block of coal in Steam to Green will have the opposite effect, instead opening up an incredible interactive journey through fossil fuels. As well as being able to get up close to this relic, a hands-on sensory station will explore the smell of fossil fuels, transporting visitors back to a time when we voyaged into the Earth to bring back this important resource for coal fires, ship engines, steam trains and racing cars. And there is even a chance to launch a digital steam ship with an interactive exhibit combining the mechanics of coal, boilers and pistons.

Across the North-East, workers descended daily into the mines and the exhibition displays a large work by South Tyneside artist and former miner Bob Olley (b.1940) who captures the sights and memories of those times. Known for his humorous and detail-packed scenes on large canvases, the exhibition will include Timbering Up (2015) which depicts miners at work in his distinctive style. Other interesting artworks connected to industry will be included, such as photographs of the first power station in the world to use turbo-alternators to generate electricity, Forth Banks, which was built in Newcastle in 1888.

Brand new interactive exhibits have children and adults getting to grips – literally – with the fun science behind green technologies.

Visitors will also be able to send a hydrogen ball skywards! They will generate electricity that passes through water, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen, and then by mixing the gases together it will explode and send the ball upwards. Solar will be soaring with a track of two solar-powered airplanes. Each one can be controlled by mirrors on the ground, shining a direct light on the plane to keep it flying. And a huge amount of power will be at people’s fingertips when they control the speed of a wind turbine. Running through the maximum, minimum and optimum settings, visitors will feel the different wind speeds that can be produced and explore aerodynamics through various fun foam shapes.

Elsewhere in the exhibition a number of intricate and detailed models will show how the North East was at the forefront of the first forays into hydro power and electricity. A 1901 electric train carriage model can be compared to a steam locomotive, while a 19th century windmill replica depicts a building that is still standing in Newcastle today. The models will also highlight how the North East was its own powerhouse during this technological revolution. Included will be a model of a steam turbine by its very inventor, Tyneside’s Charles Parsons (1854 - 1931), as well as an electrical generator by Newcastle-born John Henry Holmes (1857 – 1935) with his Holmes No1 dynamo.

And a trail around the permanent galleries highlights the improved waterwheel invented by local industrialist William Armstrong (1810-1900), who in 1878 built Cragside in Northumberland, the first home in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.

Like the batteries on display, there are positives and negatives to the development of energy technology. As well as utilising the great and good of human imagination and ingenuity, it also unleashed a dangerous future for the planet. But the exhibition will look at how the North East has taken a similar role at the forefront of industry with the new green revolution, where energy production is not being pursued at the expense of the natural world.

What better way to tell this story than through the objects themselves, some of which are made in the region. This includes a cross section of an underwater sea cable which is manufactured nearby and used to transfer power around the world. Wind turbines, solar panels and a TESLA power-wall will all be on display, showing the physical inventions that have been made as a result of tackling climate change.

The North East of England was one of the first regions to start developing a network of electric vehicle charge points, and Nissan’s plant in Sunderland is the first mass production of electric vehicles in the whole of Europe. A cross-section ‘cutaway’ of a Nissan LEAF electric car showing its inner workings will be one of the first things visitors see when entering the museum, while the first ever ‘Elektromotive’ charging post in the region will also be on display.

Those who live in Tyneside and are helping lead the green revolution are also woven into the exhibition. Following a callout to those who have integrated green technology in their domestic life, 17 households will be telling their story about how they have utilised clean energy solutions in their day-to-day routines.  

Discovery Museum itself is the perfect venue to engage with the theme of energy. It cares for a world-class science collection, including the world´s first steam-turbine powered ship Turbinia, conceived and built on Tyneside by Charles Parsons, as well as the world’s first commercial lightbulb, which was invented in Tyneside by Joseph Swan (1828-1914).

And the headline sponsor of the exhibition also has a deep connection to the industry and area. Vattenfall is a leading European energy company, while one of its current onshore windfarms – Ray Wind Farm – is built on Parsons’s former estate.

Steam to Green: A North East Revolution is a fantastic opportunity to introduce or re-engage with the brilliant past, present and future of energy technology. Beginning with the history of fossil fuels, to learning exactly how energy is converted into electricity, and finally engaging with the low carbon and renewable sources of energy that are battling the climate crisis, this fun and interactive exhibition will be sure to inspire and excite the young technicians and innovators of the future.

The exhibition will also be accompanied by a further programme of family events, schools’ visits and career pathway fairs.

Model of a steam locomotive, Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Model of a steam locomotive, Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Once in a lifetime transition

William & Ashleigh Laverick-Joyce, low-carbon technology adopters from Gateshead who feature in the exhibition, said: We have all this Green home technology available on the market now, so when we had the opportunity, we had to do our bit to give our daughter the brightest future possible.”

Keith Merrin, Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums said: “We’re very excited to launch the new Steam to Green exhibition and event programme. It not only tells the story of the North East’s role in creating inventions that changed the world in the past, but we’ve also worked with multiple experts and organisations across the green energy sector to show how the North East is leading the way in research and innovation today. We hope Steam to Green will ignite a sense of pride in our fabulous North East, inspire people to take action against climate change and encourage young people to find out more about career pathways in science and engineering.”

Georgi Rennison-Rae, radiographer, and Simon Rennison-Rae, architect, whose family portrait is included in the exhibition said: Our children are aware of the fact that we use green energy in the home and on our travels. Our eldest son is particularly happy his dad uses an electric car as it is better for the environment.

“We love having the opportunity to visit new exhibitions where young people can have fun interacting with them. By exploring new technologies that may impact their lives positively now and in the future, it helps nurture an interest from a young age.”

 Lisa Christie, UK Country Manager at Vattenfall said: Vattenfall is delighted to be supporting the Steam to Green exhibition, at a time when inspiring people about the possibilities of a green future has never been more important. With a 100-strong team based in Hexham and our Ray Wind Farm meeting around 10% of Northumberland’s electricity needs every year, Vattenfall is a key part of the North East’s energy transition.” 

Steam to Green: A North East Revolution has been curated by Kylea Little, Keeper of History at Discovery Museum, and is sponsored by Vattenfall, Lumo, Tyne and Wear Metro, and Northumbrian Water.

The exhibition is supported by Newcastle University, Faraday Challenge, Reece Foundation, The Headley Trust, Friends of Discovery Museum, and the Art Fund.

Professor Colin Herron CBE from Newcastle University said: “The whole world is going through a transformation from ‘burning stuff’ to create power to clean energy or ‘electrification’. This transformation will impact on everybody on the planet, but at slightly different times. The UK is going through this transformation now with the most visible example being the electric cars and buses we see on our roads. However, this transformation is complicated with masses of new technology which may seem overwhelming to many people.

“Steam to Green is the ‘go to’ place to understand and become comfortable with the future, and we hope to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and inventors to help this once in a lifetime transition."

Dr Haris Patsios, Reader in Smart Energy Systems, Newcastle University, said: “Newcastle University and our Center for Energy is delighted to be supporting this exhibition. We are at a critical junction for our race to Net Zero, so we have an obligation, perhaps now more than ever, to educate and inspire new generations in topics such as clean and responsible energy generation and usage.”

Press release with thanks from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums


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