Historic hydropower infrastructure in Scotland

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A project to map the presence of historic hydropower infrastructure over a large area of the East coast of Scotland began in August 2014.

A partnership between the renewables industry, four local authorities and academics at the University of the Highland and Islands (UHI) will map the presence of historic small scale hydro infrastructure across four local authority areas; Aberdeenshire, Perth & Kinross, Fife and Angus, which cover an area of approximately 15,000km2.

These areas contain some very significant river systems that were used extensively in the past for power abstraction. Water power was used for textiles, mineral processing and paper making in addition to grain and timber mills. For example, a survey from the 1930's reports 30 sites of historic hydropower infrastructure on the River Leven in Fife over a length of only 26km. A fall of over 90m between source and sea made this an attractive location for textile mill owners in the 19th century. The geography across the East coast of Scotland means that there is a high potential for production. There are reported to be at least 850 historic hydro sites in the council area of Aberdeenshire (over a total land area of 6313km2).

There is considerable momentum around the development of renewable energy technology in Scotland. The Scottish Government has an ambitious target of achieving the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity consumption from renewables by 2020. Alongside large investments in wind power, small-scale hydro is viewed as a promising source of renewable energy that is currently underutilised. Such schemes offer a means of income diversification for landowners such as farmers in rural Scotland and can contribute to sustainable rural development. Ownership of such schemes is also popular amongst the owners of large estates and communities whom derive a range of economic and social benefits from harvesting local energy. Research shows that there is much potential in Scotland for substantially increasing energy from hydropower.

The aim of the first phase of the project is the identification of infrastructure across the East coast local authority areas of Scotland and will build on work already carried out in Aberdeenshire. Researchers at UHI will collate existing data sets and other information sources that describe the presence of infrastructure and conduct a desk-based mapping study of each area using Google Earth. Data on infrastructure condition, estimated power potential and other factors such as land ownership and environmental status of the surrounding habitat will be collected.

The database produced will then be used in future phases of the project to select sites for development as case studies which will undergo refurbishment. Some of these sites will be used to test new micro hydro technologies. It is expected that geographical modelling work will be conducted on candidate sites to accurately assess their hydropower potential and economic efficiency allowing us to identify optimal locations based on flows throughout the year and assessment of alternative designs and layouts.

For more information about this project, contact: rosalind.bryce.perth@uhi.ac.uk

Project partners

Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth and Kinross Green Technology Business Accelerator, East Coast Renewables, Perth and Kinross Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Fife Council and Angus Council