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Billy Langley & Dan Curtis , 'Going with the flow: Small scale water power'

Centre for Alternative Technology Publications, 2004. ISBN 1 8980 4918 1; 160pp; £12.99

This little book excites me more than the whole heavy stack that I recently received to review. It is immediate, politically and socially relevant, practical and comprehensive - we need it. Small-scale water power, that is.

The price of petroleum increases as reserves dwindle. Wars and coups are planned and executed to ensure the minority world gets what it considers “our oil”, no matter where it is. And those who complain about polluting coal based energy, also from a non renewal resource, are told the answer is nuclear. In much of the world massive dam and hydroelectricity projects destroy human and animal communities, displace millions, and alter and damage the surrounding natural environment. The power generated is seldom designed to benefit those most affected by its development.

Yet humanity wants and uses electricity. As Langley and Curtis point out, small-scale water power has been used for years to benefit local users. Much of it in the UK and elsewhere has fallen into disuse as centralised power sources became available, cheaper initially and often the only legal source offered. In the introduction, E M Wilson says that of the UK's goal of 15% renewable energy by 2015, over half could come from small-scale hydro.

The authors have laid out all the benefits and problems of this source in a clear, concise way. They also point out that one source of energy is definitely conservation: we can all decrease our use with efficient light bulbs and appliances, to say nothing of just using less - do we really need electric bread-makers, microwave ovens, clothes driers, and sound systems in every room, or TVs with constant warm-up features? For that matter do we need TV at all?

This is also a manual for the installation of small-scale hydro systems, with clear instructions, detailed information and diagrams. All possible problems and complications are discussed. It is true, as they say, that the equipment does require an initial expensive investment and requires maintenance - but then what technology doesn't? Streams can be used on a small scale without destruction of the environment - and all these projects are possible for small communities and groups.

Government subsidies which now go to mega-projects could be turned to smaller scales if the public and politicians called for a serious commitment. Those of us who don't live in areas where water power is possible need to demand similar commitments to solar and wind. See the publishers of this fine handbook for other writings on those sources. My copy of this book is going to an NGO in the mountains of Guatemala - my contact there says it is just what they have been looking for.

Topics: Energy | How to