While much of the recent focus in renewable energy has focused around wind and solar, one key source that continues to offer Scotland significant energy capacity for the future is hydro.
There are around 120 hydro schemes of various sizes operating in Scotland. These produce around 5TWh of electricity each year which represents roughly 12 per cent of our current demand.
Despite being a clean and reliable source of electricity, hydroelectric power is now well under-represented in the current renewable energy mix. Here lies the future opportunity.
The Scottish Government recently reported potential for up to 7,000 hydro developments across the nation which could generate carbon-free electricity for a million homes. These new schemes could produce around 3TWh of additional electricity per year, more than a 50 per cent rise on current output levels. Because many of these would be micro-site developments there is great potential to deliver real benefits to local communities across Scotland.
There are, however, some real challenges to overcome. Upfront capital costs are substantial compared to other renewable energy developments. This factor combined with uncertainty over the future level of the feed in tariff (FIT) has frightened many potential investors. More predictability over FITs and some government support capital for hydro projects could help alleviate some of these problems.
Grid connection is another concern with further improvements needed in terms of speed of connections and overall capacity. The long-winded nature of the planning system also remains a significant barrier and can make projects less financially viable.
The challenge now is to get investors, governments and communities working together. Hydro is an abundant resource that we need to get the most from if we are to aspire to our ambitious aim of being one of the world’s leading renewable energy producers.
• Richard Jardine is Scottish head of environmental planning at WSP Group