Water has been used since 1584 to power industry at Aberdulais Falls, and is being brought right up to date and 'future fit' with the installation of Dimplex heat pumps in a £1.3million project at one of the National Trust's most important industrial sites in Wales.
The new visitor information and community resources centre in the Vale of Neath combines all the latest principles of sustainable design in a low-energy building, using power from an on-site, hydro-electric scheme.
The new building was completed in August 2006 on a site that has been at the forefront of using energy from renewable sources for over 400 years, and has played a central role in the industrial development of South Wales. For the National Trust, it was vital that the principles of sustainability and energy-efficiency were at the core of the project says Sian Jones, property manager for the National Trust, and Manager of the Aberdulais Falls development.
"Aberdulais is a fascinating place at many levels, as it's a site that is not only rich in history, but is very much a real, living, working heart of the community today. And combined with the fact that the falls have been at the leading edge of using nature's energy for over 400 years, it was very important for us to ensure the development is as sustainable and energy-efficient as possible, which is also part of the Trust's aim to reduce our energy footprint, it is new and untried technology for us" she says.
The new building is designed for high solar gain, and the National Trust appointed Gower-based Green Dragon Energy, one of a national network of approved Dimplex heat-pump installers, to advise and supply the energy-efficient heating.
"This is a particularly important project for us, and we wanted to work with partners whose names we know and can make it happen, and that's why we chose Green Dragon and Dimplex, both established names. We knew they would deliver not only in terms of product, but also service, which has been essential for this project, and we've all worked very much as a team to achieve our goal" adds Sian Jones.
A Dimplex LA20AS air-to-water heat pump was installed, which draws the majority of the energy needed by the underfloor heating system from the ambient air. Power to drive the heat pump is supplied by a hydro-electric water turbine, meaning the entire heating system is entirely sustainable and effectively zero carbon emission. It is planned that this system will also form part of the exhibition display for visitors who come to view the dramatic falls and gorge, and the Turbine House, which provides access to interactive computers and observation windows as well as the fish pass, which allows sea trout and salmon to swim upstream for spawning.
Construction of the centre was funded with contributions from Objective 1 European Funding, the Friends of Aberdulais Falls and the Welsh Assembly Government with the support of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, and was managed by Swansea-based contractor, John Weaver.