Matthew Rhodes (centre) of Encraft tells delegates about installing micro hydro
Rivers and streams can be significant sources of clean, renewable electricity, even in the gently undulating Midlands. That was the overriding message taken away by delegates to a seminar on 'Hydroelectric Power from Rivers', held at Oakley Hall, near Market Drayton, on 20 March. Around 30 people came to hear Matthew Rhodes, Managing Director of Encraft, who gave a fascinating round-up of the pros and cons of exploiting the energy in flowing water.
Aimed chiefly at farmers and landowners, the workshop was organised as part of the RE:think Energy project of Staffs County Council, with financial support from Advantage West Midlands.
All the main aspects of planning, developing and running a small-scale hydro plant were discussed, illustrated by examples of projects, some successful, and some not. There was much interest in the economics of hydro electricity, and the likely payback times on the capital investment.
The schemes considered typically envisaged turbines of 5 to 10 kilowatts capacity, could cost anything in the region of £50,000 to £150,000 to design and install, and were likely to have a payback of 5 to 15 years. Hydro plants can operate for up to 50 years, and the payback compares favourably with other forms of renewable energy, such as wind turbines or solar power.
There was discussion about the likely impact of the changing payment structure for renewable generators - from April micro hydro will receive two ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates) instead of the current one. Also, cautious optimism was expressed about the anticipated introduction of a feed-in tariff for small-scale renewable electricity from 2010. This could make make micro-hydro, along with other small-scale renewables, a much more attractive proposition than hitherto.
Chris Bainger from the Environment Agency was in the audience, and answered various questions about perceived environmental objections to hydropower. He echoed Matthew Rhodes in emphasizing the importance of consulting with the EA at a very early stage, to identify possible problems, such as potential impact on fish migration or flooding. Often these can be overcome, with cooperation and goodwill.
After a buffet lunch served amid the splendid surroundings of Oakley Hall in the company of their host, Mr Freddie Fisher III, delegates took a short stroll down to the lake in the early spring sunshine. Alongside the weir stands the turbine house wherein electricity was generated for the house until the mid-20th century. Mr Fisher is hoping to reinstall a generator and begin once again to harness the substantial outflow for his own renewable electricity supply.
Freddie Fisher III (fourth from left), owner of Oakley Hall, chats to delegates