Waterwheel invention promises cheap
Jan 1, 2007 Northern Echo
It's a mechanical problem that's troubled scientists
since Archimedes and the ancient Greeks but now an
electrician has come up with a new invention that
could help save consumers thousands of pounds in energy
bills. Scotsman Ian Gilmartin, 60, and his friend
Bob Cattley, 58, both from Kendal, Cumbria have invented
a mini-waterwheel capable of supplying enough electricity
to power a house - for free.
The contraption is designed to be used in small rivers
or streams - ideal for potentially thousands of homes
across Britain. It is the first off-the-shelf waterwheel
system which can generate a good supply of electricity
from a water fall as little as 20cm. Mr Gilmartin,
an electrician and inventor, was not prompted to think
up his new device by high energy bills - he does not
own a TV and has never lived in a house with electricity.
But he has a stream at the back of his house, the
Beck Mickle, and with the help of Phd engineering
student, Mr Cattley, now hopes to see the invention
in the shops by the end of next year.
Mr Gilmartin first began experimenting three years
ago with yoghurt pots and wheelie bins in the stream,
before test-running a proto-type. They took the results
to the Lake District National Park, and secured a
£15,000 grant from the organisation's sustainability
fund. The prototype has now been working successfully
at St Catherine's, a National Trust site near Windermere,
opening up previously untapped energy.
The waterwheel produces one to two kilowatts of power
and generates at least 24 kilowatt hours of sustainable
green energy in a day, just under the average household's
daily consumption of around 28 kilowatt hours. It
will hope to cost around £2,000 to fully install -
and will pay for itself in side two years.
The Beck Mickle 'low head' micro hydro generator
could potentially provide electricity to more than
50,000 British homes and could be used industrially.
Mr Gilmartin said: "While we cannot say this provides
free electricity, because of the initial cost of buying
the machine, it is expected to pay for itself within
two years and then greatly reduce the owner's electricity
bills after then."
Waterwheels of various types have been known since
Roman times and hydropower was widely used in the
Middle Ages, powering most industry in Europe. But
the energy produced from the flow of water depends
on the height, or head, that the water falls. A 'high
head' like a traditional water-wheel, is large, expensive
and needs civil engineering. But with 'low heads'
- under a 18 inches, no one had yet invented a method
of successfully recovering the energy generated. Researchers
have long sought out low cost technology to exploit
the vast number of suitable low head hydro sites as
a source of renewable energy. A conventional waterwheel
allows the water to escape prematurely as the wheel
rotates, but the Beck Mickle Hydro generator contains
the water for the full drop of the device, converting
around 70 per cent of the energy into electricity.
Mr Gilmartin explained, "This idea started off to
answer the question, 'How do you recover energy from
very, very low heads of fluid?' "With a low head there
is not very much flow, no velocity, the fluid has
got to have speed, and the only way of doing it is
with a water wheel, but they are big and expensive
and need lots of civil engineering. "I have come up
with an answer and I don't know why anyone has not
thought of it before." Mr Gilmartin added: "You have
to have a good reason for not having one. There are
enormous possibilities wherever there are water flows."