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Scottish hydroelectric potential "double" of previous estimates

The potential for hydroelectric generation in Scotland is double the level previously estimated, if micro-hydro schemes under 100 kW are considered.

Scotland's resource for hydroelectric facilities is estimated at 1204 MW of potential new capacity in 7043 schemes, compared with a 2008 study that concluded the potential was 657 MW in 1019 schemes.

New hydroelectric schemes must be sustainable and the Scottish Government has published a policy statement on its support for hydro while protecting the water environment.

“There is a clear untapped potential for smaller, community hydro schemes which can create green energy and tackle climate change,” says Energy Minister Jim Mather. “While large-scale renewable energy development is helping drive economic recovery, there could also be substantial economic and social benefit from micro-hydro schemes.”

Small hydroelectric

A 100 kW generating hydroelectric facility with average annual output would generate electricity for 50 homes. The increase in sites compared to the 2008 study is mainly in the sub-100 kW range due to the favourable tariff for micro-hydroelectric generation.

The undeveloped potential for hydroelectric facilities was re-evaluated using the Hydrobot modelling software to incorporate micro-hydroelectric resources, and also updated costing models and accounted for the effect of the proposed feed-In tariffs.

The baseline scenario in the update uses a discount rate of 8% on future cashflows, but the capacity drops to 875 MW if the discount rate is set at 12%.

Although the increase in potential compared to the 2008 study is largely in the sub-100 kW range, “this range is also the most sensitive to financial uncertainty,” the report notes. The greatest contribution to the predicted capacity occurs in the 100-500 kW band, but the positive impact of the proposed feed-in tariffs is visible on schemes of up to 1 MW in size.

Jobs and skills

The majority of the work required to develop hydroelectric projects is in construction, though skills bottlenecks are more likely to occur in hydroelectric engineering and electrical network engineering. Over half of the new jobs created from Scottish hydro schemes could be in Scotland, and job growth is expected to rise as the value of renewable energy becomes increasingly competitive, then falling as suitable sites are exhausted and environmental constraints become more restrictive.

“It is apparent that Scotland's hydro resource is far greater than modelled under previous scenarios,” the report concludes. “There is a large potential for small and micro schemes whose benefits are often more local in terms of off-setting consumption, revenues, and also in terms of employment opportunities.”

“To utilise 60% of Scotland's hydro potential by 2020 is probably unrealistic; however, it is theoretically possible to realise 25% of Scotland's economically-viable hydro potential by 2020,” it adds. “To supply 300 MW of renewable energy by 2020, 1270 new full-time equivalents would be required, with approximately 710 of these being in Scotland.”

“Such a scenario would require streamlining of the permitting process and improved access to the electricity network, along with an educational infrastructure and small-business support mechanism to ensure the hydro skills are available within Scotland,” it cautions. “These constraints must be weighed against the environmental benefits of developing this reliable source of renewable energy, and the social benefits of local employment and revenue.”

The Scottish government's Renewable Energy Action Plan has a target of sourcing 50% of its demand for electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

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