What is Reading Hydro?
Reading Hydro Community Benefit Society, Reading Hydro CBS for short, is a community hydro-electric scheme designed to harness the power of the Thames river.
It will be using some exciting technology beside Caversham lock and weir, creating both viable and feasible carbon neutral renewable energy.
The River Thames runs 215 miles (346km) from the Cotswolds. Tributaries at Buscot, Reading, and Kingston add approximately 2219 million gallons of water to the River Thames daily. It’s an incredible river, changing with the seasons and the weather, sometimes roaring, sometimes meandering, changing in depth. That’s an incredible opportunity for hydro-electric power.
Wherever water drops a decent distance, power can be generated. In the same way as in the past waterwheels would turn machinery to mill flour, today hydro technologies have replaced waterwheels (and electricity generators have replaced millstones).
Several micro hydropower schemes already lie on The Thames, including one at the site of the ancient mill at Mapledurham. Others are found at Sonning and at Windsor, providing power to Windsor Castle.
Adopting leading edge technology advances, being tried and tested elsewhere, Reading Hydro will use not only the latest in hydro designs, but also include sensors to deliver data, and learnings that will be made openly available for the public.
The bold, exciting scheme is run by skilled, enthusiastic volunteers from many different fields – from technology to marketing – calling on Reading’s true technology strengths. It will offer not only opportunities for learning, but an interesting investment. Financially, there are no guarantees, but there should be a payback (from feed in tariffs), proving that hydro-electric power can be economically viable.
Any environmental project has to be viewed in the whole, and the team are conscious of the upfront carbon and environmental costs that the project might generate. Apart from renewable/clean energy – and changing perceptions of renewable energy – local benefits include improvements to flood relief and better biodiversity created by a new fish run. Less than 20 ‘low grade woodland’ trees will be affected by the scheme (which the team are looking to offset/ameliorate), and bee homes, bug hotels, bat boxes and insect towers will help to offset this.
The project is ambitious and aspirational as well as being great fun for its volunteers. The team want this to be just the start, hoping to create additional community benefits on all kinds of levels: educational, scientific, and even ridding the river of invasive species to help improve fish stock.
With planning permission soon to be in place, an initial share offer to raise funds for the project is expected in late 2018.
The first plans have been drawn up in collaboration with local hydro experts. The final design will be made by the chosen technology provider and by a civil engineering partner that will be put out to tender.
Construction is expected to start in 2019, with the first electricity generated before the end of the year.
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