Wind Power

No, no, no, I have not made another baked bean Madras. Once was enough for anyone’s lifetime. I have never felt so deflated, nor so totally empty.

This is about the Green God’s Gadgets. Again, no need to worry. I have not grown a straggly beard and had all my arm muscles replaced with lentils and string beans. I am still of the firm opinion that the entire man-made global warming rubbish is a control freak scam and believe me, smokers are currently best placed to spot those. Especially smoking scientists – which is what I am.

However. I am and always have been attracted by the notion of free energy. Okay, yes, it’s never really free. You have to buy the thing that turns sun or wind into electricity and it only works when there is actual sun or wind around. I get that. It’s not just about electricity bills though.

Living way out here, internet is best described as dire. Sometimes teeth-grindingly slow and sometimes it will die out for short random intervals. I have been looking into a 4G connection. That will work if I place the receiver at a certain point at the kitchen window (yes, it’s that bad) but it can work.

It still won’t work if there is no electricity. It doesn’t matter how many phones or tablets or laptops you have fully charged, when the power goes of and the router stops, it all stops. Unless you stand in exactly the right place with your phone. A little restrictive, I think you’ll agree.

Two issues here. Recently, someone drove a truck or tractor into the phone line pole at the end of the drive. Phone and internet were off for a day until it was patched up, and off for another few hours another day while they fixed it properly. A small issue? Yes, but it can happen again.

The phone line passes through trees and trimming back those trees would be a job for a tree surgeon. Get it wrong and you’d bring the line down right now. Ignore it and one day, one of those branches will fall on the line and bring it down. It will happen.

The other issue is the electricity supply. This is prone to random outages. The local distribution transformers are at the top of a hill – safe from flooding but not from lightning. It’s not too frequent but sometimes there is no electricity.

This is a bigger issue for us than for most. Cooking is not a problem, we have a hob powered by gas bottles outside. Heating is a small problem, we have a wood burning stove in the living room and an entire elm tree cut into small bits in the barn, so could huddle up and survive an extended blackout.

The big problem is water. Our supply comes from a well via a pump. The well head supplies the pump tank by gravity but the pump supplies the rest of the house through filtration systems. That has to have power. No power, no water.

I have considered buying a generator. There is an old huge rusty one here which could probably be put in working order but the amount of fuel and oil those things can go through in regular use is horrible. I am still considering one as an emergency backup. It would really only need to run the water pump as the most vital component of the system, so a small one would suffice.

But… could I sustain the pump with a Green God Gadget using 12V batteries and an inverter? It does of course depend on how long I’d have to do it for but it’s possible, at least for a short outage.

I looked into it. Solar is a bit of an issue this far north. When the problems are most likely to arise – winter – the sun peeks over the horizon, says ‘ screw this shit’ and ducks back down again. You can’t charge a little garden solar light in winter here.

How about wind? We get quite a bit of that, being on top of a hill. Well, okay, but it’s not really reliable. On a still cold day after a storm there’s nothing to charge the batteries to run the pump.

Both options are very expensive to install. The Green God might be here to save mankind but he ain’t doing it for free. No sir, he’s an expensive consultant indeed.

Maybe these things will pay for themselves eventually. Maybe not. There’s only one way to find out and it’s risky. What I need is a Scotland-oriented reliable power generator.

Rain. Rivers. Streams. I have never seen a hosepipe ban in Scotland. Water is not short of supply here, it drops out of the sky most days. So, if I get a windmill, put cups on the ends of the blades and dip it in the stream next to the house…. I have something far more reliable than wind power.

What if I install little waterwheels all along every downpipe from the roof? Each one only generates a little bit but if there are 20 or more per downpipe it would add up.

Sun power is sod all use in north Scotland in winter. Scratch that one. Wind power is a bit better but windless days happen – and often when it’s really cold. Water though… there’s a lot of it and it’s always moving. Best of all, you get no energy from the water itself.

Water power is actually gravity power. 20 waterwheels in a downpipe or drain – how much energy does the water lose from one waterwheel to the next?

None. The energy is not coming from the water. The water is a vector. The energy is coming from the gravity pulling the water down, and that is inexhaustible. It does not matter whether you have 10, 20, 100 waterwheels in that downpipe. The last one gets the same driving force as the first one.

The same is true in rivers and streams and our ancestors knew this. They could build one or forty watermills along a river. It made no difference at all. If you were in watermill 40, you saw no difference in river speed from watermill 1. No energy is extracted from the flow of the water because that’s not where the energy is. It’s gravity. Water flowing downhill. It would work the same if it was dry sand flowing downhill. Gravity is the energy that cannot run out.

Nobody seems to care about this. It’s all ‘buy solar panels, buy little windmills’ and they will work some of the time. As I said, here in north Scotland, solar panels work when you don’t need them and wind can be capricious. But the river always flows.

I have a map of this place dated 1768. Both the main river and the stream are on the map and both are still here. Neither have any record of ever drying up. They flow and they flow and a watermill will not slow the energy in that flow by a single joule because it is not the water that is the energy in the flow. It’s gravity. That is the real free energy but the Green God’s Followers don’t want to exploit it. There’s no money in free stuffΒ  πŸ˜‰

So I am wondering. I have candles for lighting, I have all sorts of backup batteries for computers (enough to keep the little ones going at least), I have alternative heating and cooking arrangements, so really I need to power the water pump and possibly a 4G router in a total outage. I don’t really need a big generator.

You know, if it came right down to it, I could bypass that pump and use the gravity-fed water from the well. Unfiltered and risky but better than nothing and boiled, it would be mostly okay.

So. If I get an old car dynamo or alternator from the scrapyard, fit it to a waterwheel with sufficient diameter to ignore the seasonal rise and fall of water level, and dip it in the river, I could have a more reliable bank of backup batteries than anything the Green God’s Gadgets have on offer.

That river is not going to stop flowing tomorrow. The wind might.

27 thoughts on “Wind Power

  1. I bought my son an inverter when he was living in a caravan it was powered by an old scrap diesel car it ran for months till he got mains electric, If you bought an old diesel car you could buy red diesel from the farmer

    Liked by 2 people

    • I could legitimately buy red diesel too, since I live on a farm and it would be a permanently stationary engine. Certainly a possibility – and since it now costs about Β£100 to scrap a car, a dealer with a traded-in rustheap would probably be happy for me to just take it away πŸ˜‰


    • Ah. I first arrived in 1982, so I missed that one. There was a letter in the early 2000s asking us if we would mind not overusing our hoses, but it didn’t go to an all-out ban. It was just a good excuse to not wash the car for a while πŸ˜‰


  2. You are taking energy from the water. At the top of a hill it has a certain amount of gravitational potential energy. This is converted to kinetic energy as it accelerates. The waterwheels remove some of that kinetic energy, showing the flow.

    This covers assume of the physics


    • I knew there had to be a flaw somewhere.

      Still, considering the vertical drop through an average drainpipe, I don’t think the difference between top and bottom of a cascade of generators would be noticeable.

      It’s certainly not going to stop before the bottom πŸ˜‰


    • I’m actually really surprised that more isn’t made of this, and at the lack of support for tidal generators. Although with salt water corrosion could be a real issue.


  3. 1) Most routers run from 12 volts DC (but check your power supply, as a few use 5v). They will run quite happily from a battery. You’ll need a suitable Co-Axial DC plug, which (now that Maplins are defunct) should be obtainable from Ebay or similar. Or cut the existing lead (after carefully noting if it is marked to show which is positive and which is negative). You should check with a multimeter after any work to ensure the polarity is still the same.

    2) If you want to power a mains pump remember that all induction motors draw a very high current on start-up – anything up to ten times the rated running figure. So a “small” generator is unlikely to be any good – it might RUN the motor, but that’s no use if it won’t start it in the first place! Don’t buy anything unless you can be sure it will do the job, or you can get a refund or exchange. But as your pump is working after the header tank, could you not rig up an alternative, using a standard marine type 12 volt DC pump? Something like this: You’ll almost certainly find them cheaper on Ebay or Amazon. One of these probably won’t provide the flow and pressure you currently have, but are perfectly adequate for most boats, and must be better than nothing at all.

    3) “Off Grid” power is a subject on its own, and there are numerous sites and forums to give you ideas. I would suggest that old car dynamos (even if you can find one) and alternators are a waste of time. They are not designed to be driven by limited sources like small water or wind turbines. The brushes in a dynamo will cause drag, and car type alternators have (from my own experiments) a mechanical to electrical conversion efficiency of no more than 40%. Both have a minimum “cut-in” speed below which they won’t provide any charge, and a dynamo regulator has a mid point where it will actually allow discharge of the battery before it cuts out at low revs!

    All the successful home brewed designs use permanent magnet alternators, which have no brushes or slip rings, and hence no drag (other than the bearings). If you can come up with a decent DC supply, and batteries to store it, then an inverter is a very practical way to get AC for your pump (and things like the fridge). Don’t bother getting a cheaper (Modified Sine Wave) unit – spend a bit more and get a proper Sine Wave model. These will give a more stable supply than the mains (in most cases), and so long as you take the short term surge capabilities into consideration, should be fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A 12V pump could run from a car battery that’s trickle charged by a solar panel. Hopefully the outages will remain infrequent, so the panel has plenty of time to top up the battery between uses.

      I suppose I could, as a last resort, take the lid off the tank and scoop out a bucketful, but it would need to be boiled before drinking it.


  4. If you’re living where I think you’re living, then on the 1888 OS survey map ( there’s something interesting on the hill above your house: a mill dam.

    Apart from that, seeing as there’re watercourses near you, these might be of some passing interest:

    This is a rather interesting Venturi-flow enhancer system, very neat.


    • That’s a useful facility. Interesting to see that the shape of the wooded area hasn’t changed in 100 years!

      The old mill is still up there (it’s on the tortuous back roads we have to take while the Blackwater Bridge is out) but it’s not part of this farm. So I can’t just take it over πŸ˜‰

      But that river does pass along the edge of this farm. The farm has fishing rights to it too πŸ˜‰


  5. My DIY skills are virtually non-existent but as for water power this is interesting and cheap –

    “Free power- How to convert an old washing machine into a water powered generator”


  6. Easy way to do this is to use a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) and wire up your critical stuff into it. It sits on the mains and when it goes it automatically and seamlessly supplies the power to the items on that circuit. For intermittent use, your water pump, it will last for days and your router, laptop, phone charging which you could put on and off as necessary.

    Save all the messing about with solar, water and wind.

    If you are looking at a long term solution hydro is the way to go in Scotland. Expensive to set up, relative to wind and solar, but steady reliable output if your terrain is right.


    • That is indeed a quick fix and I should really have thought of it myself. I used to have one, long ago. It died and I never replaced it.

      I’ll have to check the power rating on the pump but it would be a very quick and easy fix while I look at long term options.

      Thanks πŸ™‚


  7. “I have been looking into a 4G connection”

    EE are now supplying a purpose made external 4G antenna and modem for people with poor or no landline coverage. Not cheap, but if you have a good 4G signal outside there are alternatives: Get a 4G MiFi router with an external aerial socket, allowing you to put a decent aerial outside. Some people have even re-purposed old satellite dishes with a cheap 4G dongle mounted in place of the LNB! But how you make such a design water/weather proof is another matter… These are usually powered from the device they’re plugged into, or have internal rechargeable batteries, so you’ve got a degree of “mains fail” operation. You would need to find where the transmitter is, as high gain aerials are very directional.


    • I have been looking at the EE option. I can install it in one of the attics (light and power up there) and aim it at a skylight for maximum reception. I know the direction of the mast because there’s really only one side of the house where you get a signal – and then only at the window.

      But when you do get signal, you get 4G…


  8. My water is from a spring to a storage tank then to the house, all gravity fed, no pump. Plenty of pressure as the spring and tank are 40 metres above me. Filtration and sterilisation is at point of use. Drought is my biggest worry but I keep bottled water in the shed, black outs would stop the uv steriliser but I could either boil the water of risk it.

    Is your house above the pump? If not you could look at installing a bypass and installing point of use filtration and sterilisation.


    • The well, and the well header tank, is up the hill so the pump’s storage tank here is gravity fed. It’s not that far up so the pump is neccesary to get water pressure to the point where the shower and heating system work.

      Of course, I could survive without the shower for a while – and have alternative heating in the form of a stove – so I could just take water from the tank and boil it.

      Not ideal, but better than having to go down to the river with a bucket…


  9. Old technology – “Hydraulic ram”
    “A hydraulic ram, or hydram, is a cyclic water pump powered by hydropower. It takes in water at one “hydraulic head” (pressure) and flow rate, and outputs water at a higher hydraulic head and lower flow rate.” (Wikipedia)
    I expect you can still get them somewhere? They are very simple and last forever.

    Or, get a diesel water pump, not a genny. Cheap gennies are unreliable, and they lose their magnetism if unused for a long time.
    Diesels can run on farm diesel, or chip fat.

    Dig a cellar and insulate it, store ice. It will keep your food chilled when the power is down.


    • I’ve seen such an ice-hole at Culzean in Ayr. It’s under one of the arches. They used to fill it with ice from the lake in winter and it would stay cold all summer.

      Simple, yet brilliant.


  10. I can tell you that a two piston Lister engine running a 16 kw generator uses about 1 gallon of diesel every 3 hours. If the old one in your shed is a single piston 8 kw job then it’ll probably run for about 5 hours on a gallon of diesel.

    These engines can put up with considerable neglect, however a decent service by a qualified technician (who can do both motor and generator – and check all the electrical connections) is a couple of hours. At about Β£80 – Β£100 per hour or so, it’s by far the most sensible option available to you.

    That way you’ll be able to power the whole house, kettle, fridge, washing machine and so on.

    This lot may be a good starting point to get the right person.

    Trust me, there’s a whole new feeling once you know you can go off grid and even do things like have security lights running whilst all around are in darkness and vulnerable.


    • At the moment I’m on cheap farm electricity but yes, getting independent of the vagaries of the mains sounds good to me.

      But then I don’t want to install permanent infrastructure – I’m renting here, and I doubt I could ever afford to buy this place πŸ˜‰


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