By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
The ancient Archimedes' screw is coming into its own as a hydroelectric technology. The Queen buys two to power Windsor Castle.
More and more homeowners these days consider installing solar, wind or geothermal gear to cut electricity bills. But if your house is Windsor Castle, you can draw hydropower from the nearby River Thames.
The Queen of England this week accepted delivery of two turbines that she’ll plop down in the Thames in order to generate electricity for her royal residence at Windsor, west of London.
What is notable is her choice of hydro technology. The Queen has turned to a piece of antiquity, the Archimedes’ screw.
As it says on the label, the device is shaped like a screw – a big screw. Each weighs 40 tons and measures 12 meters (39 feet) long and 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter, according to the Daily Mail.
The Greek philosopher and engineer Archimedes invented the contraption (pictured, right) as a way to haul water up slopes into irrigation ditches. The water would travel up in the spinning threads as someone turned the device by a handle.
The Windsor project turns the idea upside down. A giant screw slopes downward in a weir. It spins as water plunges along its threads, turning gears that drive a turbine. Archimedes turbines have caught on in other installations in the UK, Holland and elsewhere (that’s a Dutch example pictured below).
Proponents say they are simpler and cheaper than other forms of hydropower, and less prone to breaking down. They also claim that they are more environmentally friendly because they are less likely to mangle fish.
Friends of the Earth approved of the Windsor project, which is a partnership between Southeast Power Engineering Ltd. and the UK’s Environment Agency.
"We urgently need to develop clean and safe energy to tackle climate change and build a greener economy and it's great that the Royal family is showing leadership in doing so,” FOE director of policy and campaigns Craig Bennett said in a press release. "Obviously schemes should be carefully located to avoid any negative environmental impacts - and in this case the Environment Agency says there'll be no adverse effects on wildlife, navigation or flood control.”
If all goes as planned, the two screws will start providing a dose of electricity to Windsor in November, and could supply all of the castle’s power by next year. The Royals could also sell excess electricity to the grid.
The turbines are expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt hours per year, and cut CO2 emissions by 790,000 kilograms annually.
Keeping up international relations, the screws come from Holland, at a cost of £700,000, according to the Mail. Installation adds another £1 million to the bill, the paper says.
It’s been an eco friendly week for the Royals as Prince Charles became president of the World Wildlife Fund’s UK branch a few days ago.
Maybe the reigning monarch deserves the new title that the Mail bestowed her: The Green Queen.
Images: Top, David Iliff/Wikimedia Commons; Middle, Wikimedia Commons; Bottom, M.A. Wijngaarden/Wikimedia Commons
Sep 8, 2011
The screws cost 1.7 million pounds, or about $2.72 million. The average KWH rate in the US is about 11 cents (a lot less if you can get it from conventional hydro). So that $2.72 million could be used to purchase 24.7 million KWH. That means for the same price the Royals could have gotten electricity for at least 14.5 years which might be close to the service life of the screws. Given that most of us commoners would probably have to finance such an installation up front (which means interest payments), I don't see any bargain here.
The first level consideration of the public has been "Why should we support that wastefulness of keeping the useless Royals?" This solution at least takes the "waste" out of the picture. But beware, Royals! Next, with that question out of the way, we will quickly go down to "Why should the useless Royals now have these excellent devices to power their own lifestyles, when the public at large is denied them?" As always, of course, we could view the endless descent of arguments as a reflection of how the public is "never satisfied" with ANY degree of accommodation to their whims. But I suggest we take a different view of such public discussions. I say we think of them AS discussions, in which the resolution of one issue MAKES WAY FOR a further evolution of the discussion. In this case, the adoption by the Royals (and THANK YOU, Royals) LET'S the discussion evolve to the perfectly appropriate next step, that of extending such non-polluting energy to others -- whoever in the country is capable of using such resources. This view lets us diffuse the anti-anti meme for viewing discussions, which may in turn let us sooner consider which ways to go next.
Why should these devices last only 14.5 years? Are they appreciably different from the turbines in dams which operate for decades. If one assumes a more typical 30 year lifetime for 'big stuff', then the Royals will be getting their power for half price. And why not give the Royals some credit for being early adopters, the folks who pay more for emerging technology which then allows the technology to mature and drop in price for the rest of us.