These figures are a guide only. You can find out how these figures are worked out on the Case studies figures page.
Talybont-on-Usk is the first village in Wales to have their own community owned hydro. They sell all the energy generated into the grid to produce income that they then invest in community projects.
So far, they have funded a cinema screen in their town hall, an electric car share club, and have financially supported Talybont residents to trial a variety of energy saving measures, including an electric bike scheme, energy audits and trials of energy meters, which have all helped them learn about ways they can have an impact on their energy use.
It all started with a public meeting in the town hall where local residents, council members and employees from the Brecon Beacons National Parks Authority met to gauge interest in renewable energy. Over 60 residents turned out, which enabled talk to turn into action.
“We were offered an opportunity and Talybont grabbed it with both hands.” Peter, Clerk to the Community Council.
Spurred on by the enthusiasm, the group obtained funding from the National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund to work with consultants and explore what potential there might be for generating their own electricity. A core of around 25 people emerged as active participants.
“It was terribly important to us that people in the village were behind this, it wouldn’t work if people didn’t think it was a great idea and want to be involved and eventually we had a core group of people who were really passionate about it.” Barbara, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
One of the local residents who came along to meetings was a retiree from the local waterworks and recalled an old turbine house that had previously been used to power the water treatment works at a local reservoir but had since fallen into disuse. It was a breakthrough moment!
“We went up there, knocked on the door, got this big rusty key and opened the door to the turbine house and there it was. It was amazing, no turbine there, just a slot in the ground, where the turbine had been and the water rushing through.” Barbara, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
The turbine house belonged to Welsh Water and had been decommissioned in the 1980s and was lying derelict. But the site still had good potential to generate electricity using a hydro turbine, partly because of the regulations surrounding reservoir management - the river that feeds the reservoir must have what is called a compensation flow fed back into the river.
For the Talybont residents this meant that there would always be a minimum flow of water from the reservoir into the river which would not only protect and sustain the river but importantly, also guarantee there would be flowing water to power a hydro turbine.
In addition to this regulated flow, the location was also good as the turbine house was located at the bottom of the reservoir, creating a good distance between the reservoir and where the water would flow into the turbine. This was significant given the further water has to drop (being often referred to as “the head”), the more power it can generate.
“We have this enormous drop. So we have a large volume of water and an extreme drop down to the turbine which is the perfect kind of scenario for generating hydro electricity.” Alison, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
Once the feasibility study had identified the potential of the old turbine house, the group negotiated a 15-year lease from Welsh Water, Dwr Cymru to use the site and install a turbine of their own.
Talybont Energy is a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG). The group needed a legal structure to set out aims, objectives and ways of working, plus enable them to fundraise towards set up costs and then to manage the income and assets of the turbine.
They chose a CLG as it limits the financial and legal liabilities for directors and enables people to be able to become members without having to put in place a system to buy shares, making it accessible to everyone and not only those who can afford to make a financial investment.
Anyone can become a member, although only those in the Community Council area, which is a local government region, can be full members with voting rights. This enables anyone to become involved with Talybont Energy but ensures that decisions and votes can only be made by those who live locally. The company is run by 9 directors who are all voluntary and elected by the members.
“None of us are paid to be involved in the group. We’re all volunteers. We do it because we’re passionate about the project and the projects we’ve developed since we installed the turbine. We do it because we love doing it.” Barbara, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
Talybont Energy exports all of the energy generated and receives payments through the ROCS scheme. The group use the income from this to finance local community projects.
The alternative would be to supply the local electricity market, ie providing electricity direct to local houses, but neither the local grid nor the group is set up to do this.
Talybont Energy get paid both under the Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) scheme plus a fee for every unit that is exported to the grid. Additional income is also generated through the community projects that the group finances, that income being kept by the community projects as part of their sustainability.
To date, examples of community projects that Talybont Energy has supported with income generated from the hydro include the Bluebell and Mr Chips (the zero carbon car share), and Talybont Flicks.
Bluebell and Mr Chips – zero carbon car share
The group wanted to find ways to travel more sustainably given that car journeys on average equate to a third of an individual’s carbon footprint if living in a rural area. To address this, Talybont set up a car share club to trial cars which use alternative sources of energy and to test the feasibility of car sharing in their community.
Using a mix of grant funding and income from the turbine, the club bought one fully electric car, an Aixam Mega City (£12,000) and a second hand Skoda Octavia Elegance (£5,000) which the club run on 100 per cent biodiesel, produced from waste vegetable oil. The community named the cars Bluebell and Mr Chips.
They then set themselves a challenge: 13 households calculated what their normal car use would be over a year and set a target to replace 10 per cent of these journeys with trips taken in Bluebell or Mr Chips.
This would cut their carbon emissions by 4.26 tonnes or 17,000 replacement miles. Fantastically, the club reached this target after only five months, so are now aiming to save 10 tonnes of CO2 by the end of the year.
Talybont Energy’s ethos is about learning rather than preaching – the car club members get regular statements to make their achievements tangible.
“You get a little statement through once a month … saying you’ve saved enough carbon that would be the equivalent of turning off all the electricity in your house for two months. It's an amazing feeling to think that your little gesture has contributed to that.” Car club member.
Each car club member currently pays £52 per year for their membership and then pays a fee per mile to hire the cars. Insurance costs £1,000 per car, but this allows the club to have an open ended number of users – meaning the club can add more members without having to add more drivers to their policies.
They manage bookings through an online system and the cars are parked at the village hall, where Bluebell plugs in to charge. It takes eight hours to fully charge the car from empty, which gives a range of 30 to 40 miles. Or it can have a top-up charge of about four miles in an hour.
Talybont Energy are planning to install solar PV on the roof of the hall, to soon provide free green electricity to charge Bluebell and also power the hall.
A tank has been installed at a nearby farm to hold biodiesel and make it easier to fill up Mr Chips than pouring heavy barrels of waste vegetable oil into the car.
“I suspect at the end of this Bluebell will carry on and it’ll give us all a chance to rethink how we use our cars. Perhaps get rid of one or two and develop an ongoing project that everybody could be part of.” Stuart, Car Club member who uses the cars around three times per week.
Using income from the turbine Talybont Energy has also installed a cinema screen in the community hall, where a monthly film night is hosted. The 'Flicks' has surround sound, an induction loop and is a real winner – bringing out residents aged from eight to 80.
“There’s a little bit of carbon efficiency in it, as people aren’t driving to the cinema, but basically it’s a really good fun event that people come along to, bring their bottles of wine sit at the table, watch the film and have a good time.” Clare, organiser of Talybont Flicks.
We charge £4 a ticket for people to come and watch the film. This covers costs for the film royalties and running the night, and on popular nights may even generate surplus to feed back into the hall.
Plus installing the screen has created an additional revenue stream – the hall can now be hired out to businesses for conference and training days – which has reinvigorated the hall, at a time when it may otherwise have struggled for funds to keep going.
“It is absolutely brilliant, not only is it a fantastic facility for us in the local community to have films, it also opens up all sorts of other uses as well for the community. We are hoping we might actually get more bookings for the hall through this equipment.” Clare, organiser of Talybont Flicks.
Set up costs
The installation of the Talybont hydro cost £92,000 in 2005.
Talybont Energy paid for the installation with funds raised from a range of grants funders, including the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and government renewable energy development funds.
If the installation had not been grant funded, the costs of installation could have taken around four years to pay back. Payback times will vary for each installation and any new hydro scheme installed will need to take into account current export prices and schemes such as FIT.
Talybont Energy’s outgoings include rent to Welsh Water for use of the turbine house, public liability insurance and general administration costs for running a CLG, such as company accounts. This comes to around £5,000 a year.
In addition the turbine has an annual service and regular greasing, which is carried out by an engineer at a cost of around £250 a year. The group also keep aside funds, asadditional repairs can be required. For Talybont, maintenance in previous years has risen up to £1,300, so each group needs to be prepared for additional costs.
In terms of day to day monitoring, a computer monitors the turbine’s performance. Directors visit every couple of weeks to check the turbine and whether there has been any breaks in generation and that the efficiency level is correct.
The group experienced technical problems with the hydro in the first year. The rubber belts on the turbine kept shredding and it took some time to work out what was wrong, with the result the turbine had to have some modifications. This taught Talybont Energy the importance of having continuity of contact with someone who is able to look after the maintenance and technical issues. This means that any problems can be addressed quickly to reduce any potential loss of income caused by the turbine not operating at best capacity.
The group also learnt that it’s important how you communicate – that it’s far better to show rather than tell.
“We started off in the early days really trying to hammer home to people about how they really needed to address their energy consumption and change their ways. But I don’t think that people in general respond to hectoring of that sort. So now, what we’re developing is a whole range of different projects where people can be involved in a positive way, and contribute to and start something new rather than stopping doing something.” Barbara, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
With the car share scheme, the group also found that many insurers wouldn’t insure a car share club that was able to have an open ended number of members. Many car share schemes work with a defined number of named drivers on each car. So, Talybont’s advice is to speak with an insurer who specialises in community car share schemes.
There’s plenty on the horizon for Talybont Energy because the income keeps pouring in. The next plan is solar PV on the roof of the community hall so that they will have no more electricity bills, plus a recharging station for electric cars. With each investment they make, Talybont continue to look for new ways to engage different people in the community.
“You’re actually working with neighbours and friends who live around where you live which is great as well … We’ve got lots of different skills in the community and finding ways we can engage those people and use those skills is exciting.” Alison, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.
Current contribution to the grid
Each year the Talybont hydro generates the equivalent electricity to that used by 73 houses.
Key tips on creating your own Talybont
Installing a hydro system is dependent on the water flow that is available. The amount of electricity produced depends on the volume of water, how fast it's flowing, the distance the water drops and how efficiently the system turns its energy into electrical power.
Talybont were able to benefit from re-instating a disused turbine house that had a regulated flow. The reservoir management must maintain the flow at 230 litres per second in winter and 115 litres per second in summer, which enabled Talybont to install a 36 kW turbine.
However, hydro systems can be installed in a range of sizes and different designs. You don’t need a disused turbine house, but you do need water!
To give you an idea of what you need - a stream flowing at 15 litres per second should generate plenty for the average home.
Planning and permissions
Micro-Hydro systems are governed by a number of land, planning and environmental permissions that need to be checked before proceeding.
In Talybont’s case, they also needed to get planning permission from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority to re-instate the use of a turbine in the building and gain permission from Dwr Cymru/ Welsh Water for the lease of the turbine house.
It is likely that all hydro schemes will need permission from the Environment Agency for England and Wales or Scottish Environment Protection Agency. However, as Welsh Water and the Talybont reservoir already managed this process in Talybont, the community group could proceed under their license without needing their own.
Most hydro schemes will also need to check with other statutory environment agencies such as fisheries bodies, and Natural England or Scottish Natural Heritage.
You also need to undertake checks to ensure you are able to connect to the grid if you want to sell your electricity.
How to get started
None of the people involved in Talybont Energy had any previous experience in hydro and learnt on the job. As they went, they assigned different specialities to different people so that they shared the knowledge and learning between them.
“It might just seem a drop in the ocean what you’re doing, and it might seem it’s really hard work and it’s taking a long time, but if we were all involved in doing projects like this and enjoying ourselves with it, and testing things out, then that would add up to a great deal of change. So again, I would just say to people to give it a go.” Barbara, Director of Talybont Energy and local resident.