DIY Renewables

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It all started back in 2015 when I was helping out at a festival called RAW FEST, a raw Vegan festival. I’ve only just made it to vegetarian and sympathise with anyone noble enough to give up meat for ethical reasons. It’s hard work but very rewarding. At RAW FEST I was the ‘green chief’ assisting with everything green on the site. Making or at least trying to arrange: Energy Sources, composting toilets and renewably powered showers. This is what lead me to Camplight, Josh and PPL PWR.

In the first year of PPL PWR, a group of us came together to launch a competition and assemble a group of people to power sustainable change. The best part of this journey was learning from other people and sharing knowledge, I knew that I wanted this to be a bigger part of my life. Another part of the future of PPL PWR was having installations at festivals. That said, I was fortunate enough to meet a very inspirational person called Jarvis who ran the sustainability section of a festival called Valley Fest, in Somerset.

He offered us a space at the festival and we gratefully accepted, it would be our biggest installation of the year. As an individual I didn’t have the glamour of a hydrogen fuel cell or a fancy compostable tent. I was yet to start up Rainbowash, a business venture to purchase a 40 ft trailer filled with showers, water storage and solar thermal vacuum tubes.

I had to come up with something different. One of my talents is building things, but it was going to be tough. I had to top the coffee table fish tank I made a few years ago! So, I decided to build a wind turbine, bike generator, water turbine and a control panel to view the electricity being generated. This all had to be squeezed into a short period following the completion of the first year of my Master’s in May. Especially when I had a 2-week holiday to fit in and multiple festivals to volunteer for.

The idea of my installation was to inspire people to make their own renewables and gain a better understanding of how energy is generated and the amount of energy required for different applications. I wanted to show that we can all build something to generate power if we put our minds to it.

I decided to draft up some drawings and scour the internet for plans and YouTube videos. YouTube has always been a friend and I highly advise using it for any DIY projects you are working on. As with all feasibility projects I started by finding abstract ideas. I was caught up in the idea of an infinite water wheel and was duped into falling for it. What a fool to forget/ignore the laws of thermodynamics. Fortunately, I came up with my own plan.

In the end, I bought as much material as I could in London, as follows later on. The main issue I faced was space. Living in London I do not have this luxury; you often have housemates to contend with and that comes with issues when trying to construct anything. This does have a negative effect on my ability to build freely!

So, as the event was in Somerset and my parents were from this part of the world I would use the back garden. I had one week to complete the work. We set up a gazebo to protect me from the Summer sun and Summer rains! Set up some benches and got all the tools for a long week. On top of this I had a full-time job to attend to, as well!

The Power of the Wind

I found an interesting web link that outlined the exact method of making a wind turbine. Turns out you only need an old treadmill motor, a piece of PVC 4-inch pipe, some wood and a bit of hard graft. For the treadmill motor, I stole it from my girlfriend’s tread mill. Which like all good exercise equipment had been dumped at a parent’s house and fallen into disuse. A few tools ripped it out, it turned out to be a lot harder than expected. If we are ever going to have a circular economy, we must first make things that can be dismantled easily!

I bought the PVC 4-inch pipe in a convenience store but in all likelihood, I could have found this in a skip. It is better to have a slightly thicker wall of between 3-5 mm. This will prevent the turbine blade from shattering in high winds. I found a turbine blade template on Google Images and scaled it to suit the turbine dimensions required.

All the wood for the fin and the support was found from scrap and discarded wood from various friends. The supporting pole from the ground was found in the garden of my late grandmother’s house before it was sold.

Additional electrical equipment for the electronics had come from spare cables and some online purchases. Some string from old tents to hold it upright and a stake used for washing lines. Surprisingly I was able to use a castor wheel from a chair so that the turbine could rotate. This resulted in the finished article shown below.

The wind turbine outperformed all expectation. We did see some exceptionally bad weather over the course of the festival though. Tents were blown away and stages were broken beyond repair. But the wind turbine rocked on and we even had to stop it because it was reaching such breakneck speeds! It was amazing to have generated something that produced energy from what was essentially junk.

Ride your Way to Success

For the bike turbine, I had recently bought a foldable bike. It was a poor choice of bike because the mud guard on the back did not protect you from mud and water being sprayed up at your backside. So, in poor weather it looked like you’d had a bad case of the runs. Nevertheless, it was good enough for the application and served its purpose.

The other items that were required were a stand for the back wheel, a car alternator, some diodes to make the energy produced useable, a switch, threaded bar & bolts and some high voltage cable. Also, some wood for a frame, oh and the rubber bit from the castor wheel did not go to waste.

Following internet guidance once again I set out the things I needed and got as much as I could. The car alternator was sourced from the local scrap dealer. Use appropriate clothing like gloves for collection. Otherwise you’ll end up using them driving on the way home with dirty hands!

At the festival, the bike generator worked, until it burnt out the isolation switch. Turns out that the battery repair shop where I borrowed the battery was right. I really did need to follow the same principles and have an alternator light. This works by cutting off the circuit when the electromagnet is generated. Because the voltage was so high coming back from the alternator it effectively melted the switch.

We worked hard to figure it out and an electrician came in and helped out. Seemingly it was apparent that he’d had too much caffeine that day, but he worked to come to a solution. If we had a mechanic there I think we would have cracked it. However, unfortunately, after a small amount of generation, it stopped.

Turbine to the Max

I wanted to build something that was interactive and renewable. Don’t be fooled by YouTube like I did and always remember the basics of science as mentioned before. I bought a micro water turbine after some research online, the idea was to generate a small amount of electricity. I came up with an egg timer, plan below. Two 5L bottles were sourced from a supermarket, wood was sourced from anywhere I could get it and threaded bar and nuts were also used in what was to be a rather basic design.

The design being very integrated was hard to put together and the quality of the plastic bottles was horrendous, making it near impossible to work with. Given the time restraints it was impossible to source and work the glass bottles that were needed before the festival. Another issue that arose was that the micro turbine only ran in one direction making it impossible for an hour glass approach. I attempted to use bypass hoses to let the water escape so at least it would work in one direction but with the plastic tearing and not being very cooperative, it didn’t work.

That said it was still possible to demonstrate the technology by using the power of the lungs and this registered a voltage on the control panel. I enjoyed the debate and the input from others. I would have liked to hold a work shop so that the idea could be worked on but under my insurance and health and safety risk assessment it wasn’t going to happen! Next year this will be advanced and no doubt we’ll develop some great ideas.

Control Panel

The final piece of the puzzle was to connect everything together on a display. For this I used an old piece of wooden board from my dad’s back garden, a battery from a local battery center that was borrowed and never returned (I still have the intention of taking it back). Don’t worry it was in the dud pile. Wires found from everyday equipment, an AC/DC single plug converser from a failed trip to Portugal where a group of friends and myself bought a van from a production company, where the van was originally in the hit series The Bill and eventually broke down and was left in Spain. There was also a voltage meter for electrical measurements and some smaller voltage meters for all the equipment.

This panel enabled the registered voltage for the wind turbine, bike generator and micro turbine to be shown to those wanting to learn about renewables and what the energy can be used for.

Concluding Factors

Though some of my ideas and inventions failed, it made it an even more interesting social experiment. My failures made the installation more interactive. People would come over and ask why it didn’t work and actively try and improve on the idea with suggestions. These insights were always useful as either a way of testing my own knowledge, improving it or assisting in coming to another solution. This is one of the best things about festivals. They open the door to other possibilities, new ways of thinking and you have a lot of fun doing it.

Building things really is fun, so find some space and be inventive! Everything starts with a simple idea, either copying something else or adapting it to make something better. The internet and websites like YouTube can not only be tools to learn from, it can also inspire ideas that could change the world or just inspire someone else to change something small in their life.

So, why not join us? Come along to a meeting? Share an idea? Help us help you with ideas and inventions? This collective already has the ability to help with such a range of different activities and expertise. I feel like I’ve found a place to be myself, I don’t care that much about fashion or what you had to eat last night but give me a conversation around a camp fire at a festival about quantum mechanics and I will be in heaven. Come and join us, enter our competitions and be part of a growing movement. I look forward to seeing you on the other side!

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone I have met on my journey so far. From the people organizing RAW FEST for giving me the chance, the charities like Greenpeace for letting me volunteer at festivals and gaining experience. Kieran from Camplight for letting me help build his showers, the members of PPL PWR for working together to launch the competition last year and arranging some amazing sustainable spaces. So why not start your journey, wherever that may lead you!

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