Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Hydro – The Forgotten Renewable Option?

Hydropower is one of the oldest forms of renewable energy generation and can provide a reliable source of electricity throughout the year. Turbines harness the energy from falling or flowing water to generate electricity and can comprise high volume low head schemes (typically Archimedes screws) or low volume high head schemes.

There are hundreds of sites with potential for new small to medium scale hydropower schemes throughout England, Scotland and Wales with circa 50 potential sites identified alone in the Yorkshire Dales. If carefully located, designed, installed and maintained these will generate useful amounts of electricity, with minimal environmental impact.

Micro scale hydropower schemes typically range from 1 – 50kW and can power several homes, farms and business units. Very small schemes with an output of circa 4kW could generate more than enough electricity to power an average home.

Once installed, most systems can last for 40 to 50 years, with relatively low running and maintenance costs and projects can provide a return on investment of between 15-30% depending on flow rates, head, grid costs and associated infrastructure.

Unlike other renewables the specific characteristics of a site have a much greater bearing on whether a scheme will be viable. Flow rates and extraction availabilities which are dependent on rainfall levels and catchment areas are likely to be key factors but not necessarily easy to quantify from an initial site inspection. Similarly for high head schemes identifying the potential when the head or drop may span significant distances can also cause uncertainty. 

Clearly in trying to identify if you have a suitable opportunity on your land there needs to be access to a river or stream and preferably double back ownership although this is not always imperative.  You are also required to have the rights of access to the river, grid connection point and any adjoining land required to build, operate and maintain the scheme.

Any scheme is dependent of being able to extract water and hence permission from the Environment Agency to enable this can be the most contentious and difficult part of the project. Permission from the Local Planning Authority for the development is also required. Local and National designations can at times pose a threat to a development, as such it is important to establish with an agent such designations in the early stages of the project to avoid unnecessary costs. Discussions with the District Network Operator are crucial to determine the grid connection type and relevant costs.

Hydropower schemes can be complex and need to be designed and maintained carefully to avoid impacts on communities and the wider river environment.
Although there are many hurdles to achieving a successful development, the benefits can be significant with the right independent advice.

Carter Jonas have an established reputation in the renewable energy sector being actively involved in feasibility, planning, consenting, managing and constructing a significant number of Hydro schemes across the Country.

Amy Souter

Amy Souter

Associate Partner

Associate Partner in the Energy and Marine team. Experienced Environmental Consultant and Project Manager with particular expertise in energy and infrastructure developments. Advises on and manages pr...

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01423 707810

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