Everything you could want to ask about Reading Hydro, answered. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, do get in touch. Or if you want to help us answer questions like these, why not get involved?
What is a hydroelectricity project?
Wherever water falls a decent distance there’s an opportunity to generate power. In centuries past, waterwheels would turn machinery to mill flour. Nowadays Archimedes screws and other hydro technologies have replaced waterwheels and electricity generators have replaced millstones.
How did Reading Hydro start?
In 2013 different ideas for community energy projects were being kicked around Transition Town Reading’s Energy Group. In early 2014, after discussing these ideas with the Greater Reading Environment Network, they came together and The Reading Sustainability Centre (TRSC) was formed. TRSC started the development of a hydroelectric project on Caversham Weir. The project became Reading Hydro CBS Limited, and legally separated from TRSC in 2017.
What is a Community Benefit Society (CBS)?
Reading Hydro is a Community Benefit Society (CBS). This means that we’re a democratic co-operative that benefits our community and returns profits to it. You can find out more about community benefit societies here and here.
Has this been tried before elsewhere?
There are already plenty of other community hydro schemes across the UK. Upstream on the Thames there are Osney Lock Hydro in Oxford and Sandford Hydro, and downstream there’s Sonning Hydro. Across the country there’s plenty to be inspired by: Whalley Hydro in Lancashire, Rumbling Bridge in Kinross, Callander Community Hydro near Loch Lomond and many more.
Who runs Reading Hydro?
Reading Hydro is a Community Benefit Society – a cooperative run democratically by our members.
Our members elect directors who take legal responsibility for the project and make sure it meets its aims. Currently our directors are Sophie Fenwick-Paul, Anne Wheldon, Sarah Rigby and Tony Cowling.
We’re currently looking for more members and more directors. See the get involved page for more information.
When did we get planning permission?
We got planning permission to install a hydroelectric scheme on Caversham Weir on 17th May 2017. Details of the planning application are online here: http://planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/detail.asp?AltRef=151715
Where’s the money coming from?
In 2015, The Reading Sustainability Centre got a grant of £20 000 from the Department for Energy and Climate Change Urban Communities Energy Fund to carry out preparatory, surveys and public engagement work needed to the project off the ground. But we are yet to raise the funds for the build.
We’re planning to fundraise to build the hydro scheme partly by selling shares to the local community. We’re also looking for grants and loans from private companies, charities and technology suppliers.
The new fish pass we’ll be building on View Island will be funded separately. We’ll be looking for grants from various places including government, companies and charities. Quite a bit of the work can be done by volunteers, which will save money too.
How can people invest in the project?
We will publicise widely when shares or bonds go on sale, and aim to keep the minimum investment low to make it easy to take part.
We’ll be looking into how local schools, groups, individuals and businesses can get involved in the project in interesting new ways.
What are the benefits of investing?
You’ll be likely to get a modest but decent return on investment and you’ll be supporting the generation of clean, sustainable electricity in our town. You’ll be contributing to a community asset that delivers long term benefits to the local area and you’ll become part of a friendly and interesting community project.
What are the potential risks of investing?
As with all investments, you’ll be putting your money at risk. We’ll be publishing detailed plans explaining how we’ll make sure things will work and keep working. You’ll need to read them and understand the risks before investing. If things go wrong, you could lose some or all of your money.
Other community hydro projects are doing well, generating stable returns for their investors. That’s no guide to how this one will do, but it certainly shows what’s possible.
When will construction begin?
We hope to begin construction in Summer 2019
When will the turbine start generating?
If things go to plan, towards the end of 2019
How long will the hydro scheme last?
The scheme is designed to keep generating for 40 years. Some components will need to be replaced during that time.
What happens in a flood or a drought?
In a very high flood the river level is just as high on one side of the weir as the other, so the turbine won’t generate much electricity. In a drought there will be days when is doesn’t generate electricity either, because there won’t be sufficient flow in the river.
It is normal for micro hydro schemes to produce power 40-80% of the time, depending on design and the nature of the river flow. The bulk of this is likely to be between late Summer and late Spring.
Who has designed the hydro scheme?
The first plans have been drawn up by a local hydro engineer. The final design will be made by the chosen technology provider and by a civil engineering partner. We’ll put this out to tender.
How much electricity will it generate?
We estimate that the scheme will generate 300 – 400 MWh a year.
This is what’s used in a year by between 79 and 105 typical UK households. (We’ve used the estimate of typical annual household consumption of 3800 kWh used on energy bills.)
Will the project change how the weir looks?
The hydro scheme will be a small new feature of the existing large man-made construction that is Caversham Weir. Much of it will be underwater.
How will we protect wildlife?
A new, more natural-style fish pass will be created through View Island. This will help eels and other fish move up stream. At the moment some fish can only get up stream through the lock, so this new fish pass should improve things for them considerably.
Why's hydro a good way to generate electricity?
There’s no emission of greenhouse gases or other pollutants while a hydro scheme generates electricity. The greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture and installation of the project will be quickly offset by the carbon saved by its operation. Research by Bangor University has indicated that this could take as little as seven months!
Electricity generation from a hydro scheme of this type is fairly constant and predictable. It’ll probably generate a bit more in winter (when the river flow is highest) than in summer. That’s good news because the UK uses more electricity in winter. Hydro schemes also keep generating at night, when solar schemes stop.
Who else is involved in the project?
Reading Borough Council granted us planning permission and the Environment Agency have granted us licences to use the river. We’ve had strong links with the Reading Sustainability Centre from the start, as well as with Transition Town Reading and the Greater Reading Environment Network. We’ve had help from Low Carbon Hub and we’re a member of Community Energy England.
How will we involve everyone in Reading?
In coming months, as our plans develop, we’ll do more to open the project up to everyone in Reading. We’re already planning presentation for other local groups and we’re hoping to be able to offer presentations to schools, local businesses and whoever else wants one. Our upcoming events are listed here.
We’ll be going door to door in the area immediately around the Weir to make sure our neighbours are properly in the loop, and we’ll host events for local residents to have their say and get involved.
Is it going to be noisy?
No! Our site is much further away from houses than Osney Lock Hydro is and they are not having any problems with noise.
Is it going to harm fish or newts?
We’re not a commercial developer looking simply for profit – we a group of local people committed to our community and to our environment. Because of that we’re taking extra care in how we design the project to protect wildlife.
The fish pass we’re creating will enhance biodiversity, allowing fish and eels to more easily travel upstream that they can right now. It will also provide areas for fish to spawn, wild flowers to grow and butterflies and birds to inhabit.
We’ve carried out newt surveys, and aim to enhance rather than harm local habitat.
Why local energy?
Local renewable energy projects are great for a whole range of reasons. They harness free local natural resources, helping to reduce our area’s carbon emissions and combat climate change. Seven percent of UK electricity is wasted in transmission and distribution, and generating electricity close to where it is used helps avoid this.
Local projects also inspire people by making renewable energy a local, tangible option – not distant or even offshore. They’re a fantastic educational tool, demonstrating sustainability right on our doorstep.