Water power anew in the English Lakes

Reg Tiffin (l), Jonathan Smith (c) and David Lightfoot (r) with the waterwheel installed at Langdale

Today, a new design of waterwheel designed and manufactured by Smith Engineering has begun producing electricity for the first time.  The 4 metre diameter, overshot wheel produces 6 kW of power from a continuous water flow of 200 litres per second at The Langdale Hotel and Spa near Ambleside in the English Lake District.

The waterwheel is built to a high specification, based on research and development Smith Engineering have undertaken with the University of Cumbria on bucket design and efficiency.

It has been positioned where there was an existing water supply in one of the wheel pits of the former gunpowder works, adjacent to The Langdale Estate’s original turbine house which generated electricity for the estate in the 19th century. 

Delivery to site as a flat pack kit enabled it to be installed without the need for a large crane.  The buckets, spokes, rims and fishplates were all fabricated from cost-effective, 3mm pre-galvanised sheet.  These lightweight components were easily and rapidly assembled using nuts and bolts without the need for welding or any special tools on site.  This unique feature allows it to be installed in other remote locations where there is limited access. 

Since the wheel was installed in the summer, Smith Engineering carried out trials with Dr Paddy Quinlan from the University of Cumbria to determine its efficiency.  The results show that high mechanical efficiencies can be achieved from overshot waterwheels.  A water to wire efficiency of 65% was expected but first trials indicate it is over 75%.  Payback at this rate should be around 5 years.  David Postlethwaite from Border Hydro designed the control panel and grid connection.

Rod Smith, Managing Director at Smith Engineering explains:

"Little is known about the efficiency of electricity generating waterwheels at this scale.  We are very pleased with the findings of the research undertaken with the university and its contribution to understanding this form of renewable energy.  It couldn't have been done without the backing of the university, Border Hydro and the exceptional team at Langdale Estate."

Nick Lancaster, Director of Resort Operations for Langdale Estate says:

“The opportunity to re-install a modern waterwheel in our original wheelpit was irresistible and we are keen to assist in the development of renewable energy systems. We already have a biomass boiler and some electric cars that we use around our site.”

The waterwheel was funded through the University of Cumbria’s Renewable Energy Test and Education Centre (RETEC) with funding from Britain’s Energy Coast in partnership with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

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