A Tameside arts centre hopes to become the first in the country to power its gigs entirely by water – with the help of a team of volunteers, a recycled Segway wheel, some scrap metal and a length of drainpipe. The Vale, a former 19th century textile mill in Mossley, Ashton-under-Lyne which opened in 2015, plans to become the UK’s most eco-friendly band venue by switching to ‘homemade’ hydroelectric power.
According to Jon Mambo, an electrical engineer and musician who is heading up the team of project volunteers, a small waterfall close to the building, a former textile mill, holds the key to their future self-sufficiency. His calculations show that a £100 homemade micro-generator placed at the top of the onsite waterfall’s two metre plunge will provide the electricity needed to power The Vale’s monthly gigs.
The team hopes the generator, which will be housed inside a piece of 5 inch drainpipe (the only brand new component in his Heath Robinson-style design) will be working at its full potential in time for The Vale’s second birthday party gig in September. Hand built almost entirely from recycled and found materials, it is powered by a £30 second hand Segway wheel.
The small size of the waterfall, which forms part of a 6ft wide culvert (a man made water channel for redirecting a watercourse away from a building or road) means there is a modest upper limit to the amount of power the team can hope to produce. But Mambo says the exercise at The Vale, which is supported by a Community Knowledge Fund grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), delivered by The Young Foundation, is more about demonstrating the potential for communities to take small scale hydroelectric power generation into their own hands.
Nevertheless, Mambo hopes the hydroelectric power project will also bring an annual cost saving to The Vale of £3-500 and will reduce the venue’s CO2 emissions by 100 tonnes. He says the tiny handcrafted generator needs to make on average 2.4kWh of power every day of the year, in order to power their monthly gigs, that’s about the same amount needed to boil a 1.5 litre kettle of water 15 times a day.
Inspired by the nearby Saddleworth Community Hydro at Dove Stone Reservoir, Mambo has been monitoring the power usage at the arts venue and community centre minute by minute since the end of February 2023. Saddleworth Community Hydro, in neighbouring Greenfield, takes advantage of a 31m high dam and generates enough electricity to power around 100 homes.
Jon Mambo said: “A number of factors including rainfall and the efficiency of our generator, will have an impact on how much power we can generate each day. But our calculations show that even taking into account periods of drought, we will have enough to power at least 12 gigs a year, with some left over.
“Whilst what we are doing is a drop in the ocean, our aim is to produce a simple and low cost way local people can harness the energy of the mass of small streams in the local area. Being in Mossley, we have a strong history of hydroelectric power because the textile mills of the 19th century would have been powered by water wheels. So what we are doing is not new – we are simply rediscovering what we used to know.”
Mambo, who runs a small business hand building guitar amps, has determined that it takes on average 70kWh to power a gig. With a different band playing at The Vale every month he has worked out that the total power needed for a year is 840kWh, well within the micro-generator’s capability.
His figures take into account the electricity required to power the bands’ equipment, plus the extra power needed for preparation and cleaning either side of the gig, space heating, lighting, the sound system, bar coolers and hot water. Though the venue, which is staging a gig by Manchester funk band Buffalo Brothers at the end of this month, is looking forward to becoming hydro-powered, Mambo says they are not planning to go totally off grid just yet.
He said: “The power we generate from the waterfall will be transformed into mains voltage via a grid-tie inverter, the same device people attach to solar panels. This will allow us to feed our electricity into the National Grid.
“Anything we generate will offset our usage in other areas, and, if the smart-meter is smart enough, we will also receive a payback from the power company for any extra we produce. If the project is a success, we will scale up by building more micro generators to meet more of The Vale’s year round energy needs. We could buy one off the shelf for £5-700, but where’s the fun in that?”