Power from the Landscape: Water may hold the key to future power generation in South Pennines

Posted: 24.03.11

The past may shed light on potential power generation and a project in the South Pennines is proving that modern technology can successfully up-date the energy source that helped power the industrial revolution.

Power from the Landscape, a project funded by the rural regeneration partnership Pennine Prospects through Leader funding and managed by the Alternative Technology Centre in Hebden Bridge, has already surveyed 40 sites to gauge their potential for micro hydro-power generation: so far two dozen sites have been deemed to have promise and the site owners are keen to explore this ancient form of power generation. For successful schemes there are notable environmental benefits but with the government’s commitment to renewable energy, through the Clean Energy Cash Back scheme and the opportunity to sell to the national grid, there could also be financial benefits.

Pete Hill, project manager, explained the role of Power from the Landscape. “We are here to encourage the installation of hydropower in the South Pennines. In some cases the sites have already been proven because they were used many years ago to power the mills of the industrial revolution.

“Hydro turbines are more efficient on an installed capacity size for size basis than any other form of renewable energy but the total potential electricity hydropower could supply is not as much as wind power. Nevertheless there are potentially hundreds of sites suitable for small hydropower generation in the South Pennines and some that would support larger schemes.

“Many people who consider this option are motivated by their environmental concerns; they believe in the benefits of renewable energy, but this isn’t just a decision of the heart; it’s also a business decision and you need a business plan. That’s where we come in.”

Although Pete admits that taking this potential and turning it into a reality is a complex matter the Power from the Landscape project offers information, advice and practical help to anyone wishing to explore the potential of a site in the South Pennines; an area stretching from Skipton to Holmfirth and from Huddersfield to Saddleworth.

A site survey is the first step with vertical drop, or head, and water flow, calculated to determine the potential costs and benefits. The project will not only carry out a survey but will then work with the site owner to explore the options. Each site and design will have to be deemed acceptable by the Environment Agency, which may request the completion of a number of surveys, including studies on the possible impact on fish stocks. Each site will also have to have planning permission from the relevant planning authority, and other organisations may have to be consulted.

“Hydro is not as straight-forward as other sources of renewable energy. Each site is unique. The potential flow, which differs depending on the season, has to be calculated. Sites may have a large flow of water for five per cent of the year, a medium flow for fifty per cent and low flow for the rest of the time, which means they may not work at all for some of the year. This has to be factored in and a hydropower mechanism and grid connection tailor made for each site in turn,” explained Pete, an environmental biologist and qualified project manager, who volunteered on the project for 18-months before the Leader funding started in September 2009.

The initial outlay for a hydro scheme can be relatively high, taking into account the surveys and permissions needed as well as the bespoke equipment necessary for each site, however with the long lifetime of the equipment, high reliability and no fuel costs the running costs are very low.

The government’s commitment to renewable energy, through the Clean Energy Cash Back scheme, adds to the incentives as power generated can earn money through the feed-in tariff, be sold to the national grid and used by the site owner to power their own premises. Pete explained that a ten kilowatt system, producing ten kilowatts an hour everyday for 365 days a year will bring in £19,272 a year; a sum guaranteed by the government for twenty years, although, like all renewable energy sources, this is a theoretical maximum only, due to the seasonal variations in flow, and would realistically be about half this amount.

For all the intricacies involved in setting up micro-hydro power generation schemes the expertise available through the Power from the Landscape project means that owners of potential sites have the opportunity to explore their options.

The pioneering industrialists used the South Pennines landscape to power the industrial revolution and now that same landscape can help power the homes and businesses of the twenty-first century.

For further information contact Ruth Hair by email or on 01422 846049, or Pete Hill by email or on 01422 842121.

Photograph: Warland Resevoir by Steve Morgan

Yorkshire Water United Utilities Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council National Farmers Union
South Pennines Association Lancashire County Council Pennine Heritage Kirklees Council Calderdale Council
Bradford District Council Northern Rail Natural England Environment Agency The National Trust