Waterwheels ~ Ancient Wheels of Power

Travelling throughout the country both here in Ireland and in the UK I see mills dotted around the countryside that are just derelict structures on a river bank and some that are working mills with water wheels generating 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.

Derelict Mill and Waterwheel

Derelict Mill and Waterwheel

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.

Bretts Sion Mills

Working 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.

Derelict Mill and Wa

Derelict Mill and Waterwheel

If a mill has a vacant wheel pit it is possible to construct a water wheel which is aesthetically pleasing and brings the character back to the old mill.

Waterwheel Components

Waterwheel Components


Completed laser cut waterwheel

Completed laser cut waterwheel

The installed laser cut waterwheel

The installed laser cut waterwheel

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.

If you are the owner of an old mill or indeed a mill site and would like to find out more please contact us here for further information and we will endeavour to point you in the right direction.

All photographs are copyright of Eco Evolution

Practical On-farm Renewable Energy event at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus 1st November 2011

Representatives from DARD, UFU and AFBI at the meeting to launch the Practical On-farm Renewable Energy event

Following on from its success in 2010, the “Practical On-farm Renewable Energy” event will be held once again on Tuesday 1st  November 2011 at Greenmount Campus. The event will run from 11.00am until 9.00pm in the evening.

DARD has again joined forces with the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to provide practical information for farmers and the rural sector about the various renewable energy options available for their businesses.

There will be a series of seminars throughout the day on each of the main renewable energy technologies; wind power, biomass production and utilisation, anaerobic digestion, solar hot water, micro-hydro and heat pumps.

A second series of seminars will deal with many of issues facing those considering installing a green energy source. Topics covered will include the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), grid connection, planning, NI Renewable Obligation Certificates (NIROC’s), marketing NIROC’s as well as finance and funding options.

In addition there will be a Trade Exhibition and the opportunity to tour the renewable energy installations at Greenmount Campus.

If you are interested in exhibiting in the trade stand area please contact CAFRE at technology.admin@dardni.gov.uk or telephone 028 9442 6770. As space is limited it will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

For further details contact David Trimble at 028 9442 6682 or david.trimble@dardni.gov.uk.

As a result of feedback from attendees last year, a follow-up event will also be held at CAFRE’s Enniskillen Campus on 22 February 2012.


Seminar programme for CAFRE, 1 November 2011


Start Time Technology Seminar Speaker Meeting the Challenges Speaker
11.30 On-farm Energy Efficiency David Trimble Funding Gareth Gormley
12.00 Biomass

  • Production
  • Utilisation
  • Economics
  • RHI
  • Case study
 Alistair McCrackenLindsay EassonPeter Hutchinson

Simon Best

Grid connection Gerry Hodgkinson
12.30 Finance Trevor Finlay
13.00 Planning Permission Planning Service
13.30 Solar hot water Martin Mulholland Taxation Anne Douglas
14.00 AD 

  • Technology
  • Planning
  • Grid & PPA
  • Finance
  • Case study
  Nigel MoorePlanner

Andy McCrea

Trevor Finlay

Jim Torney

Renewable Heat Incentive Peter Hutchinson
14.30 NIROCs Michael Harris
15.00 Funding Gareth Gormley
15.30 Planning Permission Planning Service
16.00 Micro-hydro Eoin McCambridge Marketing NIROCs Jonathan Buick
16.30 Heat pumps David Trimble Grid connection Gerry Hodgkinson
17.00 Solar PV Greg Forbes Taxation Anne Douglas
17.30 Solar hot water Martin Mulholland Planning Permission Planning Service
18.00 Micro-hydro Eoin McCambridge Funding Gareth Gormley
18.30 Heat Pumps David Trimble NIROCs Michael Harris
19.00 Wind

  • Technology
  • Planning
  • Grid & PPA
  • Finance
  • Taxation
  • Case study
 Anita WattsPlannerAndy McCrea

Trevor Finlay

Anne Douglas

James Carson

RHI Peter Hutchinson