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Bring back watermills! Streets could be lit by hydropower from hidden river

Harness the energy of River Fleet, suggests charity

06 July, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

How the underground turbines could look Photo: LucidPipe power system

IT is centuries-old technology which villagers living on the fringes of Hampstead Heath once used to run grain-grinding mills.

But now water power could be set for a surprise comeback with suggestions that the underground River Fleet could be used as a clean way to generate energy.

Charity Power Up North London (PUNL) wants to investigate whether the river, which flows from the hills of Hamp­stead and High­gate, could be harnessed with power-generating turbines. The water eventually reaches the Thames through the city’s drainage system. It has been proposed that small turbines could be put into drains, with the flowing water pushing through fans to create energy that can be stored in batteries.

The charity’s director, Ian Grant, said: “Every day, many cubic metres of water pour off Hampstead Heath from the sources of the River Fleet. In the future, we would be interested in exploring the possibilities of putting small, hydro-electric turbines into drains that carry this resource, which could essentially provide free, clean energy.”

He added: “If you walk across the Heath or the streets around you can see and hear for yourself the huge amount of water that flows every day from the sources of the river. We would like to see if it could be exploited.  Turbines could be serviced by a series of manhole covers for access. Looking ahead, taking current technology advancements into account, the energy generated could be stored in batteries that would then provide energy for things like street lighting, electric car points and much more.”

The energy could even be used to power the City of London’s fleet of vehicles used for Heath maintenance, Mr Grant suggested.

He said: “There are similar hydro projects to this taking place in parts of England, Scotland and Wales. We believe the hills and water courses of Highgate and Hampstead could play a part in helping us move from carbon-based energy use. Water mills have traditionally provided reliable energy sources and this is something we are keen to explore further.”

A potential site for turbines could be the junction of Swain’s Lane and Highgate West Hill. Historic paintings show there was once a mill pond at what is now the C2 bus terminus. Historians believe the Fleet was used by Romans for tidal mills.

Using technology similar to machines developed by hydro firm LucidPipe in Portland, Oregon, PUNL believes there could be scope for harnessing the flow of the Fleet once again.

The charity was formed three years ago as a “community benefit society” run by eco-energy promoting groups known as Transition Towns. It has already placed solar panels on the roof of St Anne’s Church, in Highgate West Hill, and is working with Kentish Town City Farm and Caversham Group Practice doctors’ surgery to install more.

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