Million-pound upgrade for Scotland's iconic 'hollow mountain' power station

Scotland’s iconic Cruachan Power Station, built inside a hollowed-out mountain in Argyll, is to undergo a £1 million upgrade to modernise its turbine control system.
The power plant, opened in 1965, is linked to an upper reservoir and dam.The power plant, opened in 1965, is linked to an upper reservoir and dam.
The power plant, opened in 1965, is linked to an upper reservoir and dam.

Drax Group, which owns and operates the facility, said the overhaul would see the station’s current programmable logic controller (PLC) computer system replaced with a new design to put the station at the “cutting edge of energy technology”.

Control system specialist ITI will undertake the design, installation and commissioning of the upgrade across the station’s four units.

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The historic hydroelectric plant can generate power in less than a minute when needed and can also store excess electricity from the grid like a giant battery – a service that was called upon when the low electricity demand during lockdown coincided with periods of high wind power in Scotland.

The plant’s reversible turbines pump water from Loch Awe to an upper reservoir on the mountainside to store excess power from the grid. The stored water is then released back through the turbines to generate power quickly and reliably when demand increases.

In July, Cruachan became the first power station in Britain to provide critical system support services to the National Grid as part of a landmark contract aimed at reducing the threat of blackouts.

Ian Kinnaird, Drax Group’s head of hydro, said: “Cruachan plays a critical role in supporting renewable energy in Scotland and stabilising the electricity grid.

“As the country continues to decarbonise, the station’s flexibility has never been more important. This upgrade will ensure the ‘Hollow Mountain’ can deliver the fast, flexible power that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses rely on for many decades to come.”

ITI has a long association with Cruachan and the other hydro assets that Drax owns and operates north of the Border. The business was previously known as Servelec Controls, which installed the current PLC control systems in 1987 and built the control system which allows the Lanark and Galloway hydro schemes to be remotely managed when needed from Cruachan’s underground cavern from a single interface.

Bryn Thomas, sales director for power and infrastructure at ITI, said: “We’ve been working at Cruachan Power Station for over 30 years now, and in that time have developed a deep understanding of their assets, their systems and their operational requirements.

“It is these strong relationships with our customers that enable us to work with them on developing transformative solutions that enhance their operations, improve safety and support sustainable green energy production.”

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Last month, Drax said it had signed a six-year partnership for Cruachan ­Power Station to help balance and secure supply and demand for electricity in Britain.

The Yorkshire-based firm said the new tie-up with National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) was part of a “world-leading” approach to managing the decarbonisation of the grid – securing electricity supplies, saving consumers money, and helping to enable more wind and solar power.

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'Iconic' Cruachan Power Station to help safeguard Britain's energy supply

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