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Coire Glas pumped hydro scheme by SSE Renewables gets Scottish Government approval to become biggest of its kind in three decades

By John Davidson

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A larger 1500MW scheme has been approved at Coire Glas above Loch Lochy.
A larger 1500MW scheme has been approved at Coire Glas above Loch Lochy.

The biggest new hydro power scheme in the UK in the last 30 years has been approved in the Highlands.

SSE Renewables has been granted consent for a 1500MW project at Coire Glas near Loch Lochy in Lochaber.

It had previously gained consent from the Scottish Government for a 600MW scheme at the site in December 2013, but revised plans were submitted in April 2018.

The company says the changes were designed to "maximise the potential of the site and help the UK in its transition to a net zero energy system by 2050".

If it gains commercial approval, the project would see the UK’s first new pumped storage hydro scheme in over 30 years.

It would be capable of a power output of up to 1500MW for 24 hours non-stop and a pumped storage capacity of up to 30GWh.

Pumped storage schemes operate using two bodies of water at different heights and act like a very large grid-scale battery. During periods of low demand for power, electricity is used to pump water from the lower loch to the upper reservoir, akin to charging a battery. This stored energy can then be released by using this water to generate power when it is needed.

Paul Cooley, of SSE.
Paul Cooley, of SSE.

SSE Renewables says it is one of the most flexible storage technologies and is the most proven large-scale, long-duration storage option available. It can store surplus renewable electricity at times of low demand and provide this power back to the grid over several days. For example, the output from Coire Glas could power around 3 million homes for periods of up to 24 hours.

It adds that pumped storage can help relieve transmission bottlenecks and provide a wide range of grid services to the electricity system operator (ESO), such as restarting the system in the event of a black out. These ‘black start’ capabilities help provide the flexibility the ESO will need to lower the cost of balancing the national grid and thereby lower costs to consumers.

Paul Cooley, SSE Renewables’ director of capital projects, said: “We’re very pleased with the decision by the Scottish Government to consent the revised Coire Glas project, recognising the long established and proven benefits pumped storage can bring to the UK’s energy system on the journey to net zero.

“There are still commercial hurdles to overcome for new pumped storage as to where it fits within the current market framework, and we are actively exploring potential solutions. In the meantime, Coire Glas remains an important development option for SSE Renewables and receiving consent is a significant step forward for the project.”

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