New wave of water power makes a splash

Friday, 31 July 20203 minute read
Energy Industry

Pure Planet’s 2019 renewable energy mix was 89% wind, 11% solar, and a small percentage came from hydro — find out more about where your energy comes from.

  • Over 130 green energy generators across the UK have provided certificated 100% renewable electricity to Pure Planet this past year.
  • There are now 3,000 large and 800,000 small renewables sites in the UK
  • Pure Planet’s 2019 renewable energy mix was 89% wind, 11% solar, and a small percentage came from hydro.

Phil Edelin, Brechfa wind farm. Photo: Laura Shaw

In previous blogs I’ve enjoyed visits to renewable wind and solar installations in Wales and Devon. This year Pure Planet has sourced some of its renewable electricity from hydro. The power was generated by a small site run by a private owner at Black Corrie, one of many sites built recently on the west coast of Scotland. I’m looking forward to visiting in future, but for now here’s why hydro is a useful and popular renewable resource in Britain.

Solar farms and wind turbines in huge arrays have become familiar sites across fields and seas around the UK. Hydro — electricity created by the movement of water through turbines in dams and rivers — has far less output in the UK but has its own momentum. If designed well, it can blend better into the landscape. Water generated power can also come from the sea’s currents and tides. Hydro’s methods of generation also vary in scale, from enormous dams such as the Three Gorges in China, to smaller pico dams to light homes in Asia.

Image: Interactive map of renewables. Copyright Carbon Brief 2020

In Britain hydro has 1676MW installed capacity (for comparison the 57 turbines of Burbo Bank and Burbo Bank Extension have 348MW capacity, which between them power the equivalent of 310,000 homes).

Hydro sites are located mainly across Scotland and Wales. The huge number of sites can be seen on this map which though dated (from 2014) illustrates the hydro’s simplicity to be implemented anywhere with water and height (GCSE questions of Potential Energy = Mass x Gravity x Height come rushing back to me).

The immediate availability of hydro power makes it good for dealing with surges. The National Grid can draw on hydro for demand surges from the Electric Mountain in Wales that can generate electricity in 60 seconds.

However, for more power (and more water), the future of hydro looks to the seas. In Orkney, the EMEC project is pioneering tidal energy generation. It has been trialling power from the sea’s currents and waves for several years, as a test bed for larger programmes.

Harnessing the power of the tides has also been the basis for the ambitious Swansea tidal lagoon, but it is yet to prove itself financially viable.

Orkney will get its tidal power supply in 2021. I look forward to visiting it next summer. Meanwhile, Pure Planet will continue to expand its sources of 100% renewables as we grow.

Image: Copyright Orbital Marine 2020

Not a spaceship. Orkney’s tidal power machine.

Commercial Director