A London LILO Story

Low impact living on a boat in London

boat pic

It is possible to live an alternative and low impact life in London,

and living on boats is just one way to make that possible.

I live on a converted coal barge on a lovely mooring on

the River Lee Navigation in East London and enjoy living in such a

peaceful and beautiful place that is so close to the hustle and bustle of the city.

It is a combination that i have enjoyed for over six years, despite my boat not going anywhere!



I try to use low energy technology wherever possible.

For example in the summer all my lights are 12 volt, 10-20 watt halogen light bulbs.

In winter I have begun to use 2 watt LEDs as they are now quite widely available and use far less power.

I don't really like the colder light they produce and often light one candle to 'warm them up'.

They cost about £10 each. They also sell similar sets in, dare I say it, IKEA.

I'd like to try 2d low energy lights and fittings.

beer pump

Even better for me is non-electric technology e.g. for my water I use an old beer pump that was

rescued from a pub that was to be demolished, instead of using an electric pump.

I also have a wind up/solar radio but tend to use this in winter when solar panels and wind turbine

are not producing enough power for all my needs and in summer I can enjoy big speakers and a car stereo.

I also run a very small black and white T.V. and a 12 volt DVD player and a computer.


In winter I wear lots of layers to keep warm and have lots of bedding, a hot water bottle and a cat!


All adds up to being a lot more cozy then any electric blanket and I often have to resort to kicking a blanket off, and sometimes the cat too, as the wood burner can heat the boat up more than I need!

To keep my boat lit, charge my phone, play tapes and CDs, I have two 40 watt photo-voltaic solar panels.

solar panels

Despite the sun being blocked by trees for much of the day, they still provide me with enough energy for all my needs for most of the year.

wind turbine

I also have a wind turbine, a Rutland 913, though again the trees mean that it is not very efficient as it needs extremely strong winds down here in order to produce any noticeable power.

On canals and most of the river system boats seldom get enough wind to make them pay in financial terms or embedded energy and I would recommend that if you have the money for a wind turbine, then you consider buying more solar panels instead! I am interested in hearing other thoughts on this? What have others experienced?

The solar panels charge my two 115 amp leisure batteries and they store the energy until I need it.

When using wind turbines and / or solar panels you will need to use a regulator/charge controller to protect your batteries. The one pictured above is an HDRX charge controller that can connect 2 batteries to my wind turbine, as well as 2 solar panels that add up to no more than 100 watts.

Between both of them they usually provide me with all the energy I need, although as mentioned previously, because I am moored under trees, that can be a problem in the depths of winter when there is no wind and the sun is low behind the trees all day.

For approximately two months this past winter I reverted to wind up radio and very basic living in low 2 watt LED light and the occassional candle.

It is a reminder of how much we take energy for granted when in a house or office.


I use a 13kg bottle of LPG (liquid propane gas) to cook with. (Butane should not be used on a boat as it can freeze in very cold weather.)

A 13kg bottle usually lasts about 4/5 months, longer in summer.

In winter I can also cook and heat water on my wood burner which saves me some gas.

Although you can get boat fridges that run on gas, I chose to do without,and only miss this on the hottest of days (when I want a cold beer).

I tend not to buy many things that need refrigeration. The boat has good insulation (reclaimed polystyrene slabs) and because we are under trees it rarely gets so hot that food goes off too quickly (part of the reward for losing some of the sun and winds power).

I have heard about charcoal fridges and would like to find out about them and how to make them, (so if anyone knows about them please contact me).

If I need to work on the boat and hand tools aren't enough for the job, I run power tools on a small 1 kw petrol suitcase generator that is relatively quiet and light to carry compared to most generators.

Using this is a rare occurrence and I have probably used this about five times in the past year, though in reality I need to use it more often as I have lots of boat jobs that need power tools to tackle them!

I would rather it be a diesel generator so that i could run it on used chip fat (see below).


Energy generation - PV

I am a bit worried about the energy intensity in the use of PV panels. The last I read the typical PV panel uses 1060kWhrs/ sq m to make. In this country the EPBT (energy payback time) would be probably approaching 20 years. Which is the realistic lifetime of the panel. It may be that the manufacturers in the far east use environmentally sound sources of energy to manufacture these units, and recycle all the water too but they don't say much about that and at present most energy generation is fairly inefficient coal based in the region. So it may be more friendly to cut back consumption and plug in to the grid.

See Solar Panel Section

Have a look at the Solar Panel section - there's info there about the average payback time for CO2 and other pollutants (compared to using the typical mix available from the national grid).

12v source

when solar & wind don't keep you topped up, would you be willing to pedal for the power you need? A converted bike, back wheel driving an alternator can produce up to 80w for battery charging... just thinking of those dark winter weeks. My system here - http://www.pedalpa.org.uk - see links page for info on the generator systems. Email if I can help more?