From a Waterfall to a Cup of Tea, thanks to Britain’s Largest Electricity Generating Waterwheel

How do you power a tea room using a waterfall? Here at the National Trust we’ve found the solution, and it combines historic technology with twenty-first century innovation. At Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall in Wales, Europe’s largest electricity generating waterwheel is producing enough clean, green energy to power the whole site.

Caught on camera by Countryfile

The Countryfile team visited Aberdulais for the grand switch on of the renovated wheel, much to the delight of the site’s half-term visitors.  Presenter Shauna Lowry said she felt “very privileged” to be switching on the waterwheel for us. “Some of the guys said I could help get the oil in and get in there with the mechanics so that’s fun,” she said. “It’s interesting for the public to learn about green energy as well, and the National Trust is setting a fantastic example.” National Trust’s Aberdulais team are looking forward to sharing all their hard work and innovation with millions of viewers across the UK this Sunday, 15th June at 18.30 on BBC One.

Countryfile visit a National Trust site Wales

Shauna Lowry and Countryfile film crew pose for team photo in front of the Aberdulais waterwheel

Falls at the heart of history

Aberdulais Tin Work and Waterfall has long been considered a very special place. During the site’s early incarnation as a mill, artist including JMW Turner travelled there to paint the picturesque scene. The power of the waterfall was used to harness energy even then, and later when the falls became the backdrop for copper smelting and the production of tin plating. It’s the water that holds the incredible history of Aberdulais together, so continuing it’s story with the renovation of the waterwheel makes sense. Across all energy generation projects, the Trust’s most important aim is to work with the character and history of a place to make it even more special.

Leigh Freeman, visitor operations manager explains: ‘There’s been a waterwheel at Aberdulais for over 400 years, and the one you see here today is set into the original wheel pit. The power of the falls has been harnessed for various industries, and now we’re using it to help protect Aberdulais. By generating our own electricity we’re making the site more sustainable. We’ve got a second turbine here that’s generating energy, too. Any extra is sold back into the grid via our partners Good Energy, providing money to use for our core purpose here at Aberdulais – conservation.’

Europe's largest electricity generating waterwheel

From cascade to cup

So how exactly is the power of the falls harnessed? Water is diverted from the top of the waterfall and through sluice gates. It travels down a channel and over the top of the waterwheel, causing it to turn. It’s then that the shaft-mounted generator springs into action. Enough energy is generated every day to light up the tearoom, visitors centre and cinema at Aberdulais as well as powering all those cups of tea.

We’re harnessing clean, water-powered energy at Aberdulais as part of the Trust’s wider pledge to generate half of our energy with renewables by 2020. You can tune in to Countryfile this Sunday, 15th June at 18.30 to see what else Shauna has to say about Britain’s largest electricity generating waterwheel and the fascinating history of Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall.

Sophie McGovern is a Media and External Affairs intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. You can follow her adventures and insights on the National Trust Places blog. 



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