Mark Mathieson: Quietly powering a hydro revolution

Rain is one thing we have plenty of and are putting to good use, writes Mark Mathieson

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe. Picture: Contributed
Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe. Picture: Contributed

There is possibly nothing that typifies Scotland so well as its water.

It shapes our landscape of lochs and glens. For more than a century it has fuelled our most popular form of energy – hydro power. One of the very earliest schemes was used to illuminate the Raven’s Rock Hotel in Strathpeffer in 1903.

And on this very day,50 years ago (15 October 1965), the Queen formally opened the Cruachan Power Station at the head of Loch Awe, Scotland’s first hydroelectric pumped storage scheme.

Over the past few years, small-scale, ‘run of the river’ hydro has been powering a quiet revolution in Scotland’s glens.

Dozens of schemes, many suited to powering hundreds rather than thousands of homes, have been built.

Instead of relying on enormous dams, fuelled by huge catchments, these run of river projects are typically sited high up on the burns that feed our lochs and rivers. Small intakes – often only a few metres across – capture most (but not all) of the stream’s flow and carry it downhill via an underground pipe to a turbine, usually housed in a sympathetically-designed building, near the bottom.

You won’t spot many of them – they are small in scale and often remote – but over the last five years we have seen around 450 projects totalling nearly 70 megawatts built north of the Highland line, together supplying enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.

Around 1700 people now work in the hydro sector in Scotland, and increasingly local communities are taking a stake.

Earlier this year the local community in Morvern switched on a scheme in which they had invested themselves.

So thank heavens for all our rain! Today, 50 years after Cruachan switched on, Scotland’s hydro revolution continues. Let’s raise a dram to that…

Mark Mathieson, chief executive officer, Green Highland Renewables