Drax hydro power project

Drax proposes major hydro power station in Scotland to stabilise energy grid

Image credit: Drax

Energy firm Drax has submitted proposals to build an underground pumped storage hydro power station as part of plans to more than double the generating capacity of its Cruachan Power Station in Scotland.

If approved, the new power station could be operational as soon as 2030 with construction work getting under way in 2024. It will involve removing around 2 million tonnes of rock from inside the Ben Cruachan mountain.

The development would be the first newly constructed plant of its kind in the UK in more than 40 years and will provide low-carbon electricity storage capacity.

Drax also operates its namesake power station in Yorkshire that has long been a testing bed for projects designed to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, such as the introduction of carbon capture technology in its biomass reactors in 2019, and its stated goal to become the first “carbon negative” company by using that technology.

The hydro project is expected to generate up to 600MW, more than doubling the current capacity at Cruachan Power Station. It will be housed within a new, hollowed-out cavern which would be large enough to fit Big Ben on its side, Drax said.

Drax hydro power project

Image credit: Drax

It will be able to provide grid stability services to the power system by using reversible turbines to pump water from Loch Awe to the upper reservoir on the mountainside to store excess energy from wind farms and other low-carbon technologies when supply outstrips demand and then use this stored water to generate renewable power when it is needed.

Wind farms are routinely paid to turn off when supply outstrips demand or there is insufficient capacity on the National Grid Transmission System due to a lack of energy storage creating local bottlenecks.

Ian Kinnaird, Drax’s Scottish assets director, said: “Drax’s plan to expand Cruachan will strengthen the UK’s energy security by enabling more homegrown renewable electricity to come online to power homes and businesses across the country, helping to end our reliance on imports and cut costs.

“This major infrastructure project will support hundreds of jobs and provide a real boost to the Scottish economy. Only by investing in long-duration storage technologies can the UK reach its full renewable potential, and Drax is ready to move mountains to do just that.”

Claire Mack, Scottish Renewables chief executive, said: “Pumped storage hydro is a critical technology needed to meet net zero. Over the last decade we have managed to develop the technologies to decarbonise the power system such as wind and solar, but what we really need now is greater flexibility to fully optimise those technologies.

“That’s why the success of long-duration storage projects such as Cruachan 2 is absolutely vital to Scotland and the whole of the UK.”

In September, it was reported that Drax was considering delaying the closure of its coal-fired power plant in Yorkshire due to the current energy crisis and the fragility of the UK’s electricity supplies. In March, the government was reportedly speaking to energy firms in charge of coal plants to suggest extending their operating lifespan.

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