Waterwheels are traditionally quite expensive to construct and have been practical only for situations where water drops many metres (high head). Until now it has been difficult to find a way to find a cost effective way to extract electrical energy from streams and rivers with a low head. This could all change with a new design of mini-waterwheel designed by Ian Gilmartin and Bob Cattley which promises 70% efficiency from a water fall (head) of just 20cm (8 inches). They hope to turn their prototype into a commercial product by the start of 2008.
Costing around £2,000 to install, the patented prototype low head micro hydro generator located near Windermere generates 1-2kW of power 24 hours per day – enough electricity to pay for itself in under two years. The waterwheel is called the Beck Mickle after the stream running behind Mr Gilmartin’s home which inspired his first experimentation with waterwheels. He began three years ago by experimenting with yoghurt pots and wheelie bins!
The difference between this and most existing waterwheels is that the water is contained for the full drop of the device rather than escaping before all of its gravitational kinetic energy can be converted into mechanical energy rotating the generator. Construction is from food grade recycled plastic and the company now managing the development of this project (Beck Mickle Hydro Ltd) are hoping to build scalable complete units which can simply be sold as white goods and simply plugged in.
There are believed to be around 100,000 low head sites (20cm to 2 metre head) in the UK which could be exploited using this new off the shelf technology. Beck Mickle Hydro are working with Lancaster University Management School on their business plan and on promoting the waterwheel to potential purchasers. They are also working with the Lancaster University Environment and Engineering departments on the development of the unit. Further support is being provided by Life-IC – and energy technology incubator specialising in low-carbon technology commercialisation, and by The Lake District National Park Authority Sustainable Development Fund which provided a £15,000 grant.
Click here to view our calculation of hydro power guide to see how much electrical power can be generated from a suitable stream or river. Unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that without a good flow of water and a decent head there is not a lot of electricity to be made. If you have a trickling stream with an 8 inch drop running beside your home don’t expect to be meeting your power needs with a waterwheel no matter how efficient it is.
Alternative Low Head Low Flow Rate Hydro Power Generators
If you have a head of over 7 metres you should also consider a Rainbow Power 300 Watt Hydro Generator available for around £1,300 plus shipping from Australia.
Beck Mickle Waterwheel Information
The official Beck Mickle Hydro Ltd website is still under construction.