Wongari Eco Retreat

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When Things Go Wrong….

A hydro system in action is a joy to behold: water turning a (pelton) wheel powers the home/cabin and then continues on its way to the creek from which it came. No harm is done to the environment but a lot of good comes form it.

At the start of Waterfall Creek is the third and final drop in its 200m drop from above.

Water falls and energy is given off. How do we capture it?

What is even more exciting pre-exists the turbine even being considered: Country. At Wongari we are indeed priviledged in this dry continent to have not one but two beautiful creeks. In particular, Waterfall Creek starts behind us in the Mcpherson Ranges, has a very steep rocky drop almost exclusively through our property, has never dried up, can be a raging torrent when in flood, moves bolders like golf balls, cuts its way through beautiful remnant rainforest and has choice number of places to simply insert a pipe and get water wherever you need it. It’s a renewable energy source that dreams are made of.

Until things go wrong. As it has happened with our system and, sadly, it turns out to be my fault. Nothing wrong with the head where the water is captured and sent on its merry way down the 700m of high pressure poly pipe (penstock) until it is captured in the cleverly designed powerspout turbine from ecoinnovation in New Zealand. The problem, unfortunately, started closer to home .

To make it a feature of our eco-centered cabin, Bimbul, I put it as close as possible to the cabin. While I was prepared for some noise issues I was not expecting the sound of a small jet engine reverberating off Bimbul’s walls. It was loud. It was so loud we started to think of solar and all of its benefits, like, really quite operation. Solar would not register in at about 90db. But we didn’t think for long. Who would pass up the one in a thousand opportunity we had?

Housing the hrdro turbine worked to soundproof it but created a hydro bath in the process.

A well sealed housing for the hydro followed after its 86db proved a problem when it is this close to Bimbul.

So I built it an enclosure more sound proofed than I had anticipated. All good. It worked for getting the noise to acceptable levels. Hardly noticable really. And than we did have that constant stream of water flowing forth, creating its own little water course that was starting to be its own feature. And that was starting to give us ideas as well The only trouble with sound proofing though is that you have to virtually seal the unit in a near air-tight compartment – thus my undoing.

It turns out my hydro system hates moisture. Ironic what? Yes the old water wheel is not how it used to be. Today it is a wheel in a wet area turning a smart drive (PMA – Permanent Magnetic Alternator) in a dry area. Unfortunately, even a dry area can become wet if the humidity inside the turbine unit reaches nearly 100% which, as you may have guessed, came to be the consequence of me building a sound-proof enclosure that did not allow for ventilation as that meant openings for noise to escape from. And so my very efficient and new hydro turbine also became, inevitably, a hydro bath.

Thus the unfolding disaster became unavoidable just a mere five months later after the start of operation. The wheel in the dry zone is connected to the smart drive in the wet zone by a shaft that spins at an incredible 1500 (approx.) revolutions a minute. It can do this because it is held in place by two shielded bearings that, you guessed it, hate moisture. Consequently, the moisture prevented the grease lubricating the bearings and weakened them, then seized them and then, finally, shattered them. The wheel, still spinning, wrenched the shaft form its attachment to the dividing bulkhead and the rest is now history.

Proper care in Hydro instalation cannont be watered down

The hole in the bulk head dividing wall is three times the diameter it was originally

The understanding guests we had lost power. We had to cancel the next lot of guests and, luckily, were able to move all other guests to our original cabin, Serenity, while the full extent of the damage was realised and remedial action was taken.

As I write this all is coming together and the parts I need are on their way from New Zealand – fingers crossed – and we won’t have the same debacle as last time when DHL couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do with the parcel – deliver it, not deliver it, keep in storage or return it to sender. In the end, it did all four.

Fortunately, time was on our side then. Not now. We’re busy. Which makes events like this frustrating – and not the least, also, that it was an avoidable error on my part (read the manual!). On the other hand it has been another steep learning curve and, though not the best way to achieve the next level, it has been rewarding in solving and resolving the problem. I almost feel like I have graduated in the class of ‘worthy renewable energy.

And as they say in many philosophical reflections: No Pain, No Gain.

Post Script: I am going to vent my enclosure with a bathroon-style exhaust fan, more drain holes so there is absolutely no holding back of used water, and a new automatic grease canister to feed the bearings. Wish me luck.

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