Reading Hydro CBS

Harness the power of the Thames by Caversham for the community.

350
Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Reading Hydro's story

In 2013, different ideas for community energy projects were being kicked around Transition Town Reading’s Energy Group. In early 2014, after discussing these ideas with the Greater Reading Environment Network, they came together and The Reading Sustainability Centre (TRSC) was formed. There are plenty of community hydro schemes across the UK, including close by. Upstream on the Thames there are Osney Lock Hydro in Oxford and Sandford Hydro, and downstream there’s Sonning Hydro. TRSC started the development of a hydroelectric project on Caversham Weir, which turned into Reading Hydro.

Hydro is a great way to generate electricity. There’s no emission of greenhouse gases or other pollutants while a hydro scheme generates electricity. The greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture and installation of the project will be quickly offset by the carbon saved by its operation. Research by Bangor University has indicated that this could take as little as seven months!

Electricity generation from a hydro scheme of this type is fairly constant and predictable. It will probably generate a bit more in winter (when the river flow is highest) than in summer. That’s good news because the UK uses more electricity in winter. Hydro schemes also keep generating at night, when solar schemes stop.

Reading Borough Council granted them planning permission and the Environment Agency granted the licences to use the river. Reading Hydro has had strong links with the Reading Sustainability Centre from the start, as well as with Transition Town Reading and the Greater Reading Environment Network. In addition, they have had help from Low Carbon Hub and are a member of Community Energy England.

The two Archimedes Screw turbines should generate about 320MWh of renewable electricity each year, for decades to come. This is enough to supply about 90 average homes. The turbines themselves are a few metres wide and will operate in view of the public footpath that crosses the weir. Being close to the train station, town centre and easily accessible on foot, the hydro scheme location will be open to all to visit, including local schools, universities and community micro-generation groups from all around the country.

Protecting wildlife was an important consideration too. A new, more natural-style fish pass will be created through the site that will help eels and other fish move up stream. At the moment, some fish can only get up stream through the lock and the new fish pass should improve things for them considerably.

Reading Hydro recently raised £980,000 through a share offer with several different levels of investment to allow a range of people to participate in clean sustainable energy generation. As a Community Benefit Society (CBS), the organisation is a democratic co-operative that benefits the local community and returns profits to it. Building work on the site is commencing soon and should be completed within six months.

What have you learnt that others will find most useful?

  • Fundraising is not only about return on investment but also about supporting clean, sustainable, local electricity and contributing to a community asset that delivers long-term benefits.
  • Involving the broader community is an important part of the work, including local schools and businesses.
  • A local hydro scheme inspires people by making renewable energy a local, tangible option – not distant or even offshore.
  • Easy access to the sites and turbines in view are a fantastic educational tool, demonstrating sustainability right on our doorstep.

Measures of success?

MWh of renewable energy generated. Return for investors who bought shares. Profits generated to support other community-led action to tackle climate change.

Read more: https://hydro.readinguk.org/

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