Pico power protects oldest Welsh Bible

Published : 22 Nov 2019

One of the most important books in Welsh history is now being protected by harnessing the power of the very element that has been threatening its future.

An original copy of the first Welsh Bible, printed in 1588, will be staying warm this winter following the installation of a small pico hydro-electric scheme at Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant.  

Through collaboration with Bangor University and Trinity College, Dublin, the renewable energy scheme is helping us  protect one of the nation’s most culturally important books more sustainably.  

As one of only 24 known original copies left, it's displayed at the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, the person responsible for its translation, and is part of a wider collection including Bibles in over 100 different languages. However the unique collection on show at the 16th -century farmhouse is susceptible to moisture in the air. Increasingly heavy and persistent rainfall, flooding and damp have put the collection at risk.

Climate Change Advisor for the National Trust, Keith Jones explained: “Earlier this year we experienced the worst flood at Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant in living memory and that extra moisture meant we needed to use more heating to ensure the humidity levels didn’t get too high. Climate predictions indicate likely increases in the severity and frequency of rainfall in the area.  This small-scale technology is allowing us to adapt to future changes more sustainably.”

At Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, we sought a more sustainable approach with help from the Dwr Uisce Project, which is supported through the Ireland-Wales Co-operation Programme 2014 (funded by the European Rural Development Fund) and includes researchers from Bangor University and Trinity College, Dublin. Having considered all options for more efficient heating that is also sympathetic to a grade II listed building, we opted for a 4.5kW hydro, known as a ‘pico’ hydro scheme, for its small size.

The shed for the pico hydro pump is clad with larch from the Ysbyty Ifan estate
Wooden clad shed for pico hydro pump within the grounds at Ty Mawr Wybrnant, Snowdonia
The shed for the pico hydro pump is clad with larch from the Ysbyty Ifan estate

Keith Jones added: “The hydro will only borrow a set percentage of the water from the stream once the water levels reach a certain point. This means we are generating the electricity when we most need it, when there’s more moisture in the air after rainfall. The energy is consumed directly onsite, solely for the conservation of this priceless Bible collection.”

Dr Prysor Williams, team lead at Bangor University, who are tasked with calculating the impacts of installing the technology, said: “As well as the obvious financial savings, we expect a project like this to lead to greenhouse gas emission savings of just over 5.2 tons, per annum.”

Dr Aonghus McNabola, Associate Professor in Engineering at Trinity and the Dwr Uisce project lead, said: We have, alongside our partners at Bangor University, been working closely with the National Trust on this project over the last two years. We are hopeful that we will further develop this exciting pico hydropower technology and that it may be used more widely in the not-too-distant future.”

In a bid to halve our fossil fuel consumption by 2020, we have installed a number of energy efficient and renewable technologies across Snowdonia including biomass boilers, and heat pumps at farms, holiday cottages and offices. This is the eighth hydro electric scheme we’ve installed in the area, the first of which was at Hafod y Llan and at 600kW was the largest.

The original Welsh Bible is on show alongside over 200 Bibles, many of which have been donated to us by visitors. The collection includes Bibles in over 100 different languages.

Keith Jones, concluded: “We’re incredibly lucky and privileged to have an original 1588 Welsh Bible at Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant. When we re-open in the spring, visitors will be able to learn about how such an old Bible is being protected by new technology. In essence, water is actually helping us solve a problem it’s creating in the first place, so there’s some kind of poetic justice there!”

Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant has recently closed for winter and will re-open in the spring.