A MOSSLEY arts centre hopes to become the first in the country to power its gigs entirely by water.
The Vale plans to become the UK’s most eco-friendly band venue by switching to ‘homemade’ hydroelectric power.
Jon Mambo, an electrical engineer and musician heading up the team of project volunteers, believes a small waterfall close to the building holds the key to their future self-sufficiency.
His calculations show 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, which includes environmentalists, artists, gardeners, engineers and a former local Green Party councillor, hopes the generator 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.
Project costs have been kept down by support from local businesses, including scrap metal donated by Crescent Sheet Metal, based at nearby Wood End Mill.
Their contributions include a set of handrails which were made as film props for award-winning Channel 4 police black comedy No Offence, which is set in Manchester.
The small size of the waterfall, which forms part of a 6ft wide culvert means there is a modest upper limit to the amount of power the team can hope to produce.
But John said the exercise, 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.
He hopes the project will also bring an annual cost saving to The Vale of £300-£500 and will reduce the venue’s CO2 emissions by 100 tonnes.
Inspired by the nearby Saddleworth Community Hydro at Dove Stone Reservoir, John has been monitoring the power usage at the arts venue and community centre minute by minute since the end of February 2023.
He said the tiny hand-crafted generator needs to make on average 2.4kWh of power every day of the year to power their monthly gigs – about the same amount needed to boil a 1.5 litre kettle of water 15 times a day.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“While 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.”
Saddleworth Community Hydro, in neighbouring Greenfield, takes advantage of a 31m high dam and generates enough electricity to power around 100 homes.
Though the venue is looking forward to becoming hydro-powered, John added 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.”
As part of the project, the team of volunteers has cleared the culvert of rubbish, making it a more hospitable environment for local wildlife.
John said the tiny generator, which will be housed inside a piece of five inch drainpipe – the only brand new component in his Heath Robinson-style design – will have no detrimental impact on the surroundings.
Amelia Bayliss, general manager at The Vale, said: “The people of Mossley are progressively experiencing the impacts of climate change. The moors around us burn with increasing frequency and intensity and rivers and tributaries are habitually bursting their banks, causing damage to people’s homes and businesses, and risking loss of life.
“Although this is a global problem which needs collective action, successful small hyper-local interventions such as our micro hydroelectric power generation can be replicated elsewhere, leading to big cumulative impacts.
“Over this six-month pilot, local residents have developed the skills to reproduce the project across other suitable sites in Mossley and beyond. The potential is enormous when people take the power into their own hands.”
• The Vale was launched in 2015 as a grassroots arts and learning centre by carnival arts group Global Grooves. In 2021, a £1 million cash injection saw a substantial upgrade to the facilities.
In addition to regular gigs and film nights, The Vale offers a year-round programme of participatory and community events, many of them free, including family craft sessions, community gardening, writers’ workshops, community reuse and recycle sessions, hand drumming, and carnival style dance.
Find out more online: https://www.the-vale.co.uk