Renewables receive Royal Seal of Approval: Marine Turbines Installed at Windsor Castle

On the 7th of September two 40 ton Archimedes marine turbines were installed on the River Thames at Romney Weir, just a few miles from Windsor Castle. The marine turbines will be used to generate power for the Royal Palace and is expected to reduce the Royal Household’s carbon footprint by 790 metric tonnes per year. This renewable development is expected to be the just the first step in a drive to de-carbonise the Royal Family’s home life.

Marine turbines such as these were based on technologies developed over 2000 years ago by the Ancient Greeks (specifically in this case by Archimedes of Syracuse) to allow irrigation of land at the top of slopes.

Plans to install renewable electricity generators at Windsor Castle have been in the pipeline for a number of years. The Royal Household had initially been approached by Southeast Power Engineering Ltd. (otherwise known as SEPIEL) in 2007 but it is only now that the project has reached the stage were marine turbines could be installed. The delay was attributed to the particularly thorough scrutiny that the Environment Agency placed the proposals under. Issues such as local wildlife and riverbank ecology had to be placed under especial scrutiny as the Environment Agency had, before this, never granted a Weir lease to a private company let alone a development such as this which would always attract far more media attention than could be usually expected.

Barry Russell, the Environment Agency’s hydropower project leader released the following statement:

“This is a great opportunity for developers and community groups to get involved in generating clean, green electricity in an environmentally sustainable way.

Marine Turbines must fulfill their potential

“Weirs are an untapped source of energy and the Environment Agency is keen to ensure that hydropower fulfills its potential as a small but useful renewable energy source, whilst protecting the environment.”

The marine turbines are expected to be operational and providing power to Windsor from November but it is as yet unclear whether the installed marine turbines will be sufficient to fully power Windsor Castle from entirely renewable sources. Royal household sources have indicated that they fully expect full green power to be achieved by 2012. A Spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace commented: “I can confirm that the royal household now has an agreement in place to purchase the energy generated by the hydro scheme, implemented by SEPIEL.

“We have been looking at this for a number of years. It is one of a number of green initiatives introduced at royal residences by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.”

Friends of the Earth UK‘s director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett issued the following comment:

“This is exciting news – 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.

“It’s not just the royals who can take advantage of the UK’s huge potential for renewable energy on and off shore – from our wind and sun to our waves and river weirs. The Government should get on with the job of greening all of our energy supplies and ensure communities are properly supported to produce their own clean power.”

The installation of marine turbines at Windsor Castle has not been a project without its problems. SEPIEL encountered difficulties in securing a bank loan to fund the project. In fact they were unable to secure a loan which would have allowed for the marine turbines to be manufactured within the UK. A problem vocalised at the time by the company’s director David Dechambeau: “I have got a local company that would be willing to build the turbines, but we are finding it difficult to find the financial support needed to build the Archimedes-type pump for the first time.”

As a result of this reliance upon bank finance the marine turbines have now had to be sourced from the Netherlands at a cost of around £700,000 each. The example of SEPIEL indicates the problems that a renewable scheme can run into, and the compromises that may have to be made, when it has to deal with the problem of bank finance (particularly in these days of banking hesitance and caution), projects get delayed, costs are raised and the project itself can be potentially compromised. It is clear to see then, the advantage a company such as ours, which does not rely on securing finance from banks, has.

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