PUMPED hydro storage schemes could cut the costs of operating the UK’s energy system by around £700m a year according to a study commissioned by SSE, which is working on plans for a bumper development in the Highlands.
The Perth-based energy giant expects to be able to generate huge amounts of hydro-electricity at the Coire Glas plant from the movement of water between two reservoirs.
The scheme near Loch Lochy would be the largest of its kind in the UK.
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SSE Renewables said the findings of a study by researchers from Imperial College London reinforced its view that projects such as Coire Glas could play a key role in the drive to achieve net zero in the UK.
Pumped hydro storage schemes can be used to help maximise the potential of renewables, by compensating for the intermittency associated with energy sources such as wind farms. These generate power when weather conditions are favourable. However, this may not coincide with demand.
Pumped storage hydro schemes can be used to generate power to make up for shortfalls in renewables output and to store excess supplies.
Energy can be generated when required by allowing water to fall from a reservoir into one below. The water can be pumped back when demand for energy is low or there are excess supplies of renewable energy.
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The Imperial team found the addition of 4.5 gigawatts (GW) of additional pumped storage hydro capacity could save up to £690m per year in energy system costs by 2050.
This is based on estimates of how much would need to be spent on developing and running other energy plants, which may include gas-fired facilities. It also includes savings in respect of potential wind power that may otherwise be squandered.
Coire Glas is expected to have 1.5GW capacity.
Mike Seaton, Director of Development at SSE Renewables welcomed the report.
He said: “Following the recent reconsent of Coire Glas we are now progressing the project through further refinement and studies and believe it could come online by the end of the decade, generating thousands of jobs in the process.”
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However, Mr Seaton added: “There are commercial hurdles that we still need to overcome if such a large civil engineering project is to become a reality. The current policy and market framework are not yet suitable for attracting investment in such large-scale storage projects”.
It has said the project would likely cost more than £1 billion.
The giant Cruachan pumped hydro storage plant in the Argyll hills has played an important part in Scotland’s energy system since it came into operation in 1965 .
The so-called “Hollow Mountain” facility was acquired by Yorkshire-based Drax from ScottishPower in 2018.
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Drax has said it would be prepared to invest in increasing the capacity of Cruachan with the right support.
Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the Scottish Government has long been supportive of pumped hydro storage.