Laser cut waterwheel designed and installed to generate electricity.

The waterwheel is an ancient device that uses flowing or falling water to create power by means of a set of paddles or buckets mounted around a wheel. A waterwheel consists of a large wooden or metal wheel, with a number of paddles or buckets  arranged on the outside rim forming the driving surface. Most commonly, the wheel is mounted vertically on a horizontal axle. Prior uses of water wheels include milling flour in gristmills and grinding wood into pulp for paper making, but other uses include hammering wrought iron, machining, ore crushing and pounding fibre for use in the manufacture of cloth.

Traditional waterwheel

Traditional waterwheel

On occasion the old water wheel is still insitu and can be refurbished but in many cases the wheel has been removed and sadly sold for scrap metal value or taken apart to be kept as keepsakes or used as garden ornaments. If a mill has a vacant wheel pit it is possible to construct a water wheel which is aesthetically pleasing and bring the character back to the old mill. On some old mill sites access to the wheel pit is confined and in cases like this the preferred option is a bespoke laser cut waterwheel.

Components of a laser cut waterwheel

The spokes, rims and buckets are all fabricated from pre-galvanised sheet finished with polyester powder coating. These lightweight components were easily and rapidly assembled using stainless steel nuts and bolts without the need for welding or any special tools on site.

Laser cut waterwheel designed and installed to generate electricity.

The waterwheel arrives flat packed on site and during construction, the waterwheel components can be lifted in place without the need for heavy lifting machinery, reducing installation time and health and safety risks. This also allows assembly in areas with limited access e.g. rural areas with narrow roads.

Waterwheel instalied and generating electricity

Advantages of waterwheels

Waterwheels are widely regarded as being rather inefficient compared with turbines. This is not necessarily the case as studies have shown that waterwheel efficiency can be in excess of 80% for Overshot waterwheels and 75% for Breast-shot waterwheels [Muller 2004]. This in combination with highly respectable part-flow performance and lack of fine intake screening requirements can often result in very worthwhile overall energy capture so are still a viable proposition for producing electricity for domestic purposes. They are simple to control and aesthetically pleasing. Although they run relatively slowly and require a high ratio gearbox to drive a generator, for low powers – say below 5kW – and heads below 3m, they are worth considering.

Water wheels are also safe for the passage of fish.

  • Output reduction due to screen blockages is avoided since fine intake screens are not required.
  • Part-flow performance of waterwheels can be very good without requiring complex control systems.
  • Often minimal building work is required, particularly at former watermills if there is a vacant wheel pit.
  • Waterwheels have obvious aesthetic benefits over turbines and provide an excellent attraction at sites where visitors are encouraged.

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