Langley, Billy & Dan Curtis. GOING WITH THE FLOW: Small scale water power. 2004. Centre for Alternative Technology Publications, Wales.

This little book excites me more than the whole heavy stack that PN recently sent me. 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 the 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 which supposedly will not contribute to global warming. In much of the world massive dam and hydro- electricity 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 UK and elsewhere has fallen into disuse as centralized power sources became available, cheaper initially and often the only legal source offered. In the introduction E.M. Wilson says that of the UK 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(which have other dangers) 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 these systems, with clear instructions, detailed information and diagrams. All possible problems and complications are discussed. It is true as they say that the cost of equipment does require an initial expensive investment and does require 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 subsides which now go to mega-projects could be turned this way if the public educated politicians and called for a serious commitment to small scale. For those of us who don’t live in areas where water power is possible – then we 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.

Filed under Billy Langley, Book Reviews, Dan Curtis