Renewables boost as plans announced for massive investment in hydro power


  By Martin Kelly
Scotland could be on the verge of a new generation of hydro power to rival the revolution in the glens which saw electricity taken to the Highlands in the 1950s.
Scottish Power today announced its intention to examine more than doubling the capacity of the iconic Ben Cruachan pump storage station – the world’s first high head reversible pump storage hydro scheme, housed in a gigantic man-made cavern.

The plan, which would result in one billion pounds of investment and cover several years of construction, would see the capacity of the Ben Cruachan facility more than double, from its current 440 Megawatts (MW) to 1040 MW.

Welcoming the announcement, First Minister Alex Salmond said it heralded a “renaissance in hydro and pump storage energy” and opened what he called “another chapter in our outstanding history of harnessing renewables”.

Scotland was the one of the first countries in the world to harness electricity from its waters. That legacy is still visible and the ambitious post war hydro building programme resulted in infrastructure which still produces electricity today.

Mr Salmond added: “In 1945, fewer than half of the homes in the highlands had access to electricity. By 1959, that proportion had increased to over 90 per cent through the forethought and leadership of Tom Johnston, who led the hydro-electric revolution.

“Today, the Scottish Government recognises the potential for future development at Cruachan and other similar proposals for hydroelectric storage, to contribute to a balanced mix of energy generation across Scotland. This could see hydro power generate up to one third of Scotland’s entire generating capacity in the next decade.

“Together with other developments, this major extension of pump storage technology will allow us to build on Scotland’s powerful position as a world leader in harnessing natural resources. The plans for future pump storage development demonstrate that our significant and diverse range of natural assets continue to attract the huge investment in infrastructure that will enable the Scottish economy to flourish.”

The power generated by Cruachan currently helps in dealing with spikes in electricity demand, with the gates being opened and water cascading down turning the turbines.  During periods of low demand for power, surplus electricity is used to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir, which is then ready be released when needed.

The doubling of Cruachan’s capacity will help provide a continuous supply of renewable electricity and will compliment the power generated through Scotland’s onshore windfarms.  As more wind farms are constructed it is anticipated that there will be periods when the energy generated will exceed demand e.g. when the wind is blowing across a wide area of the country, and this will be lost unless stored.

Keith Anderson, Scottish Power’s chief corporate officer said: “Pump storage is still the most efficient and effective way of storing energy, and then using it at times of high demand.

“That’s why it works very, very well alongside wind farms.”

The First Minister added: “Increasing pump storage capacity will strengthen Scotland’s balanced energy mix and in doing so it can also enhance security of supply right across Great Britain.

“With electricity regulator Ofgem forecasting a narrowing gap between English electricity generation capacity and peak demand, Scotland’s position as a net exporter to the rest of the UK is increasingly important to ensure security of supply across the network. It is clean, green, renewable Scottish electricity that will keep the lights on.”

The First Minister welcomed the announcement while on a site visit to Iberdrola’s Cortes La Muela scheme, Europe’s largest pump storage facility, completed in 2013, to see the scale of the technology involved.  The capacity of La Muela was increased to 1800MW in October last year.

During a news conference at La Muela, the chairman of Iberdrola, Ignacio Galan, dismissed suggestions that Scottish independence would threaten plans to invest in Cruachan.

Cruachan is the world’s first high-head reversible pumped storage power station.  It attracts 60,000 visitors a year to “Hollow Mountain” visitor centre.  In 2012 Cruachan received the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Heritage Award.

The development of Ben Cruachan pumping station would be expected to take between 8-10 years and up to 1,000 workers could be employed during the main civil construction works at peak.  Scottish Power will undertake a two year feasability study before rubber stamping the expansion.

The proposal constitutes a major boost for Scotland’s renewable energy sector which currently supports more than 11,000 jobs in Scotland.  In 2012, renewable sources delivered 40.3% of gross electricity consumption in Scotland, up from 36% in 2011 and well on the way to meeting the Scottish Government’s interim target of 50% by 2015.  The electricity generated through renewables is already enough to power the equivalent of every household in Scotland.

As well as hydro power, the renewble energy sector in Scotland also includes wave, wind (onshore and offshore) and tidal. 

Onshore wind power is now the most powerful form of renewable energy in Scotland.  The country also boasts 25% of Europe’s total offshore wind resource.  Figures published in June 2013 show wind generation in the first quarter of last year reached a record high, up by 11.5% year on year.

Scotland also has an estimated 25% of Europe’s tidal potential and 10% of its wave potential.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney celebrated ten years of real-sea experience in 2013.  There have been more grid-connected marine energy converters deployed at EMEC than at any other single site in the world and the centre remains the world’s only accredited marine energy laboratory.

The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters is the site of the world’s first commercial scale leasing round for marine energy – and the Saltire Prize is the world’s largest prize for marine energy innovation.

The Crown Estate, which owns the sea bed, has awarded leases for just over 1.6 gigawatts of marine projects in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters – potentially enough to power 750,000 households.