Historical Hackers: The Hacker Of Cragside, Circa 1870

Imagine visiting a home that was off the grid, using hydroelectric power to run lights, a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, and a washing machine. There’s a system for watering the plants and an intercom between rooms. Not really a big deal, right? This is the twenty first century, after all.

Armstrong with a 7 inch gun of his design
Image of Armstrong and his 7-inch gun from an 1887 edition of Illustrated London News

But then imagine you’ve exited your time machine to find this house not in the present day, but in the year 1870. Suddenly things become quite a bit more impressive, and it is all thanks to a British electrical hacker named William Armstrong who built a house known as Cragside. Even if you’ve never been to Northumberland, Cragside might look familiar. It’s appeared in several TV shows, but — perhaps most notably — played the part of Lockwood Manor in the movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Armstrong was a lawyer by training but dabbled in science including hydraulics and electricity — a hot topic in the early 1800s. He finally abandoned his law practice to form W. G. Armstrong and Company, known for producing Armstrong guns, which were breech-loading artillery pieces ranging from 2.5 inch bores up to 7 inches. By 1859, he was knighted and became the principal supplier of armaments to both the Army and the Navy.

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Solar And Wind Could Help Support Ethiopia’s Grand Dam Project

Ethiopia is in the midst of a major nation-building project, constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Upon completion, GERD will become the largest hydropower plant in Africa, providing much needed electricity for the country’s growing population.

The project dams the Blue Nile, a river which later flows into neighbouring Sudan, where it merges with the White Nile and then flows on to Egypt. Like all rivers that flow across political boundaries, concerns have been raised about the equitable management of the water resources to the benefit of those upstream and down. Too much water dammed upstream in GERD could have negative effects on Egyptian agriculture reliant on river flows, for example. Efforts are ongoing to find a peaceful solution that suits all parties. Recently, suggestions have been made to supplement the dam’s power output with solar and wind to minimise disruption to the river’s users.

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Retrotechtacular: Renewable Energy, 1948 Edition

If you’ve got 10 minutes, how about a quick break to watch a video about renewable clean electric power? Must be a recent video, right? Nope. The Coronet Instruction Film below is from 1948 and covers using rivers to generate power. Hydropower isn’t a new idea, of course, and the film starts out with an old-fashioned water wheel. That’s not really what they are driving at, though.

The announcer sounds just like the guy who narrated all the film strips you saw in school. There are some good vintage shots of Niagra Falls and some other dams. The video also makes some economic arguments about hydroelectric versus coal and why some rivers aren’t suitable for power generation.

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Model Hydroelectric Plant Is An Illuminating Educational Tool

There’s more than one way to light up a strip of LEDs. Have you tried building your own hydroelectric power plant to do it? Well, now you can. Replicating [Matic Markovič]’s entry into the 2020 Hackaday Prize is bound to teach you something, if not many things, about the way hydroelectric power is generated and the way the variables play into it.

In [Matic]’s model, water from an adjustable-height reservoir flows into a 3D-printed Pelton turbine. The water jet hits the turbine’s cupped fins at a 90° angle, causing the assembly to spin around rapidly. This mechanical energy charges a brushless DC motor that’s connected to an Arduino Nano, which rectifies the AC from the generator and uses it to light up an RGB strip like an equalizer display that represents the power being generated.

This is easily one of the coolest educational displays we’ve ever seen. The reservoir can move up and down over a 55 cm (21.6″) range with the flick of a three-way toggle, which makes it easy to see that the higher the reservoir, the more power is generated. [Matic] has the STLs and INOs in the usual places if you want to make your own. Flow past the break for a demonstration, followed by an exploded render that gets put back together by invisible hands.

Your hydroelectric setup doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to work. One man’s trash can be another man’s off-grid phone charger.

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Places To Visit: Electric Mountain

The experience of being a teenager leaves a host of memories, of social awkwardness in the difficult process of not quite being a child any more, of tedious school days, and of team sports seemingly enjoyed only by the few. Wherever in the world you grew up will have lent a particular flavour to your recollections of that period of your life, whether your memories are good or bad.

One surprising common theme in British teenage memories, at least those of a few decades ago, are power stations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Central Electricity Generating Board had a PR effort that involved bringing parties of teenage school geography students in for a tour of their local electricity plant, so if you talk to a British person of a certain age you’ll probably find they’ve been up close and personal with a coal-fired power station.

The true power station marvel of the age would have been too far away to tour for most kids at the time, though our geography teachers expounded on it at length. Dinorwig pumped-storage power station in Wales was opened in the early 1980s, and is a hydroelectric plant that uses excess grid generating capacity in the middle of the night to pump water into a lake at the top of a mountain, from which it can later be released at very short notice to respond to demand surges in a matter of seconds. The oft-quoted example is that when an episode of Coronation Street draws to a close there are several million British kettles turned on simultaneously, at which point Dinorwig comes online to rapidly make up the resulting shortfall.

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A Modest But Well-Assembled Home Hydropower Setup

We have all opened an electricity bill and had thoughts of saving a bit of money by generating our own power. Most of us never get any further than just thinking about it, but for anyone willing to give it a try we are very fortunate in that we live in a time at which technology has delivered many new components that make it a much more straightforward prospect than it used to be. Electronic inverters, efficient alternators, and electronic battery management systems are all easy to find via the internet, and are thus only a matter of waiting for the courier to arrive.

Pelton Wheel
Pelton Wheel

[Frédéric Waltzing] is lucky enough to have access to a 135 foot (38 metre) head of water that those of us in flatter environments could only dream of. He’s used it to generate his own power using a modestly sized but very effective turbine, and he documented it in a Youtube video which you can see below the break.

He brings the water to his turbine house through a 1.5 inch plastic pipe, in which he maintains a 55PSI closed pressure that drops to 37PSI when the system is running. His Pelton wheel develops 835RPM, from which a small permanent magnet alternator provides 6.3A for his battery management system. An Enerwatt 2KW inverter provides useful power from the system.

This hydroelectric installation might not be very large, but its key is not in its size but that it can run continuously. A continuous free 6.3A charge can store up a lot of energy for those times when you need it.

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Trash-heap Water Wheel Recharges IPhone In The Woods

We’ve all been there – hiking in the woods with a dead phone battery. No GPS, no way to Tweet that selfie from some hill with a great vista. It’s a disaster! But not if you have access to a little trailside junk and have the ingenuity to build this field-expedient water wheel generator to recharge your phone.

OK, it’s a stretch to imagine finding all the things needed for [Thomas Kim]’s hack. We’re only guessing at the BOM – the video below has little commentary, so what you see is what you get – but it looks like a garbage can at the trailhead might at least yield the materials needed to build the turbine. Water bottle bottoms and a couple of plastic picnic plates form the Pelton-like impeller, the frame looks like an old drying rack, and the axle appears to be a campfire skewer. But you might have a hard time finding the electrical side of the build, which consists of a stepper motor, a rectifier, and an electrolytic cap. Then again, you could get lucky and find a cast-off printer by the side of the road. No matter how he got the materials, it’s pretty cool to see an iPhone recharging next to a babbling brook in the woods.

Looking for a little more oomph from your trash-heap hydroelectric turbine? Maybe you need to look at this washing machine power plant build.

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