Water has a crucial role to play as part of sustainable development. Many local watercourses have the potential to generate clean renewable energy, through small-scale hydro power. This can be a safe and economically viable means of meeting local energy demand. The decentralisation of energy production can in some more remote areas help to reduce the power losses associated with transferring electricity long distances from centralised generators. Small-scale energy production can form part of an embedded approach to managing water, with additional benefits. It can help to keep the watercourse clean and free of rubbish, oxygenate the water to benefit the ecology, and provide a focal point for managing the water resources at a community level.
Community groups can play a vital role here in facilitating renewable energy projects by developing Community Supported Utilities to maintain such projects. Landowners may consider long term lease arrangement for example to develop derelict hydropower sites.
Small Scale Hydropower is an example of the sensible use of Nature’s gifts, in a sustainable manner. A starting point for numerous individual and communal undertakings, able to provide and improve standards of living, while also looking after our planet.
There are estimated to be at least 20,000 run-of-river weirs and water mill sites in the British Isles. Coaley Mill is an example of one of 18 mill sites in the Dursley Valley and there are another 100 mill sites in the adjacent Stroud Valleys, Gloucestershire.
Frequently only the hydropower output of the plant is valued when numerous other benefits accrue to the wider river environment. These include the removal of rubbish, recovery of valuable humus material (leaves, algae etc) for return to the land, improved water quality and the reporting of pollution. Whereas the Environment Agency may express concern over these issues, they rarely recognise the benefits associated with a well operated installation.
Mill sites can be suitable and aesthetically pleasing locations for reinstalling hydropower in some cases, but they are not the only options.
Small-scale hydro (pico: <5kW; micro: <100kW) can be very unobtrusive and low-impact. It is possible to have the generators and workings hidden from view in small, discrete housings, which would not change the aesthetics of the site.
Maslin, M. (2004) Global Warming: a very short introduction, Oxford: University Press.