The introduction of new technology need not mean a rejection of the past. Indeed such change can best be seen as part of the ongoing development of our history and our resources. Take the UK’s many thousands of water-mills. For hundreds of years they were used for milling and weaving. Now, in Somerset, some of them are being used for hydropower.
The South Somerset Hydropower Group (SSHG) brought together mill owners from across the county to reinvigorate the mills by installing turbines to generate hydroelectricity. Costing from £1,000 to £4,500 per kW and funded by a combination of grants and the mill owners’ own money, the turbines are easy to install, causing minimal damage to these historic buildings.
A total annual output of 600 MWh/year is anticipated from ten schemes with owners acting as independent suppliers while also being able to sell surplus electricity to the grid. By 2010 the eight operational sites were saving 160 tonnes of CO2 per year, with additional energy-saving measures having been incorporated into the installations.
And as we debate how to define benefit in more than purely economic terms the scheme is playing its part by preserving our heritage, demonstrating a sense of continuity and spreading the word about energy-efficiency and our climate. And there are an estimated 40,000 further mill sites in the UK that might be suitable for micro hydropower.