Hydropower returns to Cragside and lights up history

A new Archimedes screw at Cragside in Northumberland will harness the power of water to relight this grand Victorian house just as its previous owner Lord Armstrong did back in 1878.

Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, when Lord Armstrong used water from the lakes on the estate to generate electricity through a turbine.

The new Archimedes screw being installed at Cragside. Credit North News and National Trust

The new Archimedes screw being installed at Cragside. Credit North News and National Trust

This green energy project supports the National Trust’s wider energy goals to halve fossil fuel use and generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Archimedes screw

The Archimedes screw was switched on by actor, Robson Green

The introduction of this modern hydro system, a 17 metre long galvanised turbine weighing several tonnes, will produce enough energy to light the 350 bulbs in the house, and enable Cragside to retell its story.

The Archimedes screw will produce about 12kw of electricity and over the course of a year will provide the property with around 10 per cent of its electricity. This is the equivalent to lighting all the lights in the house for a year, but not enough to run all its computers, fridges and freezers.

Andrew Sawyer, Property Curator at Cragside commented: “It is a very visual demonstration of the way hydro power works, an almost sculptural sight in the landscape. Lord Armstrong was an exceptional man with an ingenious mind and the prospect of bringing his vision for Cragside into the 21st century is a dream come true.

“Hydroelectricity is the world’s most widely used form of renewable energy, so we are looking forward to sharing this very special part of its heritage.”

Cragside from the valley. Credit National Trust

Cragside from the valley. Credit National Trust

Water from Tumbleton lake, the lowest of the five lakes on the Cragside estate, will feed through the turbine and into the burn below. As water passes through the spiral blades it causes the screw to turn, thereby harnessing the energy of falling water. The energy is then converted into electricity using a generator. The technology is well proven with over 100 installations in Europe and was chosen by the National Trust for its many advantageous features.

Sarah Pemberton, Head of Conservation for Yorkshire and the North East at the National Trust explains: “The hydro-turbine is a great example of the innovative methods we are using to achieve the highest possible standards of sustainability.

“The technology is easy to maintain due to the simple mechanics, and because it works at low speed, it’s possible for fish to pass through the turbine unharmed. The best thing about the screw is that it’s visible and we hope this will add to people’s understanding of why Cragside is so special. Visitors will be able to view the technology from the lake side.”

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Light bulbs powered by hydroelectricity from the Archimedes Screw installed at Cragside

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “To install a scheme that reflects the character of one of our places so directly is unique. It not only makes economic sense but adds so much depth to the story this special house has to tell.

“This technology is another key step in our clean energy journey and will help one of our biggest properties in the north east to generate its own electricity.”

Alongside this project, an ambitious plan was launched last year by the National Trust, in conjunction with the 100 per cent renewable electricity supplier Good Energy, to provide clean energy to a further 43 of the charity’s historic properties.

Through its clean energy generation 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 Trust’s energy programme by making the switch and signing up to renewable electricity with the charity’s energy partner, Good Energy. The company will pay the Trust up to £40 per year for each new customer that signs up to its dual fuel tariff and mentions the National Trust.

Find out more about the Trust’s energy work and partnership with Good Energy at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/energy

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