Scotland’s mountains are not only beautiful and a big asset for the UK’s tourism and leisure industries, they are also invaluable for the energy industry.
The generation of hydroelectricity relies on gravity to propel water through power-generating turbines.
The greater the height difference between turbine and water source (also known as “head”), the greater the kinetic energy and hence power generation potential. Most hydroelectricity schemes are therefore built in mountainous regions.
There are 838 hydroelectric schemes across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
More than 65% of hydroelectric power stations in the UK are located in Scotland hills and mountains.
They account for 93% of the total capacity.
The UK’s hydroelectricity schemes range from micro-sites with capacities from 45kW to mammoths with almost 10,000 times the capacity of the smallest site.
Many of the newer hydroelectricity schemes are micro-sites that benefit local communities across Scotland.
The first hydroelectric plant was Kinlochleven Hydro Power Station G. It was commissioned in 1909.
Combined, all schemes generated 6.9TWh of electricity in 2016 which is around 2% of the UK’s overall electricity demand.
So-called pumped-storage hydro-electric power stations pump the water back up to a storage reservoir outside peak demand times.
Cruachan, situated in Argyll and Bute (Scotland) was the first such station in the world when it opened in 1965.
Cruachan is also the hydroelectricity plant with the highest capacity (440MW).
Several of Scotland’s hydro-electric plants were built to power the aluminium smelting industry.
Many more plants were built in the mid-20th century by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to supply the communities of the Highlands.
These plants were built in in the form of several linked stations and different heights, each covering a catchment area, so that the same water may generate power several times as it descends.
Most hydroelectric plants in Scotland are operated by SSE.
Hydroelectric power has been significantly under-represented in the renewable energy debate, lost in the cacophony over wind and solar power.
There are thousands of potential additional sites for hydroelectricity generation, most of them in remote and rugged geographic locations.
Since many of these locations are in national parks or other areas of outstanding natural beauty, environmental concerns would deem them unsuitable, or could mean that they could not be developed to their full theoretical potential.
Moreover, the upfront capital costs associated with getting a hydro scheme from concept to operation are extremely high compared to other renewable energy developments.
The region with the most hydroelectricity schemes is the Scottish Highlands Council area.
If you would like more information on hydroelectricity or how your business could make the change to renewable energy with our green tariffs, please get in touch.