“When electricity prices prevent older people from heating their homes, and the River Thames is just down the road, why are we not using it to power our city?” was a question posed by a member of the Geezers Club at an AgeUK centre in East London. The Geezers are a group of older men aged from 55 to late 80’s, who meet weekly in Tower Hamlets. For the last five years they have been working with artist Loraine Leeson, engineer Toby Borland and others to realise their dream of using the River Thames to provide energy for London’s riverside communities.
The project was initiated by an art commission responding to the Democratising Technology research project being carried out by Ann Light and others at Queen Mary University of London that questioned why the extensive life experience of older people was failing to inform new developments in technology.
Members of the Geezers group were able to recollect developments in tidal and wave power from years earlier, many of which were brought to a premature end in the 1980’s. Though research into energy from wind turbines did re-commence, the power of the Thames remains relatively untapped to this day. During the life of the project Active Energy has involved a practical proposal for installing tidal turbines at the Thames Barrier, renewable energy workshops at a local school, a wind-driven public light-work for the roof of an Age UK centre, prototyping workshops at University of East London and art exhibitions in both the UK and USA that have brought these issues to public attention.
The most recent phase of the project has been to create an ultra low-cost turbine to produce energy from the river and prompt a debate on the use of the River Thames as a source of energy for the city. The process of creative facilitation that has driven this work and fostered citizen-led innovation by older people has gained international attention, whilst the small scale turbine that has been designed specifically for slow moving tidal rivers is thought to be the first of its kind and capable of low-cost replication for developing nations overseas.