Water power has returned to a historic beauty spot that the National Trust looks after in Wales this week, following the restoration of Europe’s largest electricity generating waterwheel.
Watch BBC One’s Countryfile this Sunday from 6.30pm to see the big switch-on.
The giant steel waterwheel at Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall in Neath, which is looked after by the National Trust, had been out of action for several months while it was being refurbished.
Now the wheel, which weighs in at 16 tonnes and measures more than eight metres across, is spinning once again.
The scheme will contribute to the conservation charity’s drive to halve its fossil fuel use and generate 50 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
From waterfall to teapot
Powered by an overflow of water from the River Dulais at the Aberdulais Falls, the waterwheel will generate all the energy needed to provide heat and electricity for the National Trust attraction, including a tea room, visitor centre, cinema and education centre.
A second hidden hydro at Aberdulais, called ‘Edvard’, will generate around 400,000kwh a year which is enough electricity to power around 120 homes .
Any power not used on site will be sold via the grid to the 100 per cent renewable electricity supplier Good Energy, with money raised ploughed back into conservation projects, such as archaeological works.
Leigh Freeman, manager of Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall, said: “Bringing the waterwheel back to life has been a long and difficult project for us because we’re working with a bespoke system in the existing historic infrastructure. It’s incredibly rewarding to now see it in action.
“Here we’re trying to tell the story of a monument and the wheel helps with that because it gives it a life form and a character. It’s fantastic for me to see the reaction of people when they see the wheel for the first time; they’re just blown away by the sheer scale of it, and the kids really love how the water splashes over the side.”
Charmaine Coutinho, Business Development Manager at Good Energy, said: “Our customers will be delighted to hear that we source electricity generated from the waterfall at Aberdulais. It’s incredible to see the waterwheel up close and it really shows how beautiful and useful renewable technology can be.”
Watch our behind the scenes video of the switch on, with Countryfile’s newest presenter Shauna Lowry.
A history of water power
Set in a steep gorge, the waterfall at Aberdulais has driven various industries at the scheduled ancient monument since 1580 when a copper smelting furnace was established there.
Flour milling and tin industries ensured the site continued to be at the centre of the community, and in the 19th century a new waterwheel was installed and the place became a hub for hydropower.
Its industrial history and beauty has inspired several famous artists, including British Romantic artist JMW Turner, who painted a watercolour of it after a visit to South Wales in the late 18th century.
Claudine Gerrard, archaeologist at the National Trust, said: “There are some incredible stories about the people who have worked at Aberdulais throughout its long industrial history. We know from written records that during the 1800s, when the site was a tin works, there were children as young as eight years old working here.
“Our archaeological investigations are beginning to help create a more detailed picture of industrial activity at Aberdulais, and how the different ruined buildings we see today were used.”
Beautiful and useful energy
The National Trust is considering opportunities to install renewable technology where it is appropriate and in the right location and scale for the landscape.
There are more than 250 small and medium-scale renewable energy schemes at National Trust places across England and Wales, including biomass, solar and hydro technology.
An ambitious plan was also launched last year by the National Trust, in conjunction with Good Energy, to provide clean energy to 43 of its historic properties.
It is hoped the scheme will help the charity to generate half of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and halve fossil fuel use in the same period.
Through its renewable energy plans and with energy conservation work, the Trust hopes to save an estimated £4 million from its energy bill each year – which it can plough straight back into conservation work at the special places it looks after.
Energy users can support the programme by making the switch to renewable electricity with Good Energy and mentioning the National Trust. Find out more about the Trust’s energy work and partnership with Good Energy at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/energy
- Watch BBC One’s Countryfile this Sunday, June 15 at 6.30pm to see the waterwheel being switched on at Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall.