A hydropower engineer walks into a bar…

When the owner of a pub in the United Kingdom needed a way to provide electricity for its operations that relied on renewables rather than fossil fuel, hydroelectric power became the answer. How fun is that?!

The pub, called Sticklebarn, has been a fixture near Ambleside in the Lake District for more than 40 years. It is located near a stream with a flow of nearly 200 L per second. The National Trust took over ownership of the pub in March 2013 and just recently received approval to install a 100-kW turbine-generator unit to take advantage of this resource. This project, called Stickle Ghyll, is expected to cost £650,000 (US$1.07 million).

The National Trust is a charity that works to preserve and protect historic places and spaces. It opens 300 historic houses and properties to the visiting public, operates 360 holiday cottages and cares for thousands of tenanted buildings. The trust spends almost £6 million (US$9.86 million) a year on electricity, oil and gas. National Trust staff work in the pub and share their knowledge and expertise of the outdoors with the thousands of visitor who come to the valley for its outdoor activities, the trust says.

Development of this hydro project is part of a wider aspiration to turn Sticklebarn into the UK’s most sustainable pub, the National Trust says. The pub is focused on sustainability in other areas as well. It produces its own vodka and gin and serves food grown by neighboring tenant farmers. Many of the beers offered are from local breweries. All profits from the pub go back into protecting the local landscape.

This project is one of three from the National Trust that are included in a pilot phase of its major renewables investment program. The National Trust has pledged to invest nearly £3.5 million (US$5.75 million) in five pilot projects during 2013/2014. The other hydro project involves a plant at Craflwyn near Beddgelert, Snowdonia. Electricity from this project will be sold back to the grid.

If the pilot is deemed successful, the trust expects to spend ten times that sum on a program that will enable it to generate 50% of its energy from renewable sources and halve its fossil fuel consumption by 2020. In 2008, only 1% of energy consumed by National Trust properties came from renewable sources and 99% from fossil fuel.

“Small wind turbines and hydropower plants can be developed in harmony with their surrounding landscape, archaeology and ecology and can enhance people’s enjoyment of the countryside,” the trust says.

Facilities the trust has already converted to be powered by renewable energy include Gibson Mill, a textile mill in West Yorkshire that is powered by a combination of wood fuel and solar for heating and hydroelectric power and solar panels for electricity. Another is Bonfield Gill Farm in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, where a 1-kW Archimedes screw is used to generate electricity.

I think this is a fun story, not just because it involves a pub but because it shows the value of hydropower as a distributed source of electricity, similar to how many facility owners are installing solar panels. Hopefully more business owners will look to the surrounding area for renewable resources and see the hydropower potential in their own back yards.

If you know of any stories similar to this one, tell me about it below. I would love to learn about more development of this type.


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