Drax gets approval for groundbreaking £500 million hydro plant 

Drax Group, a leading player in renewable energy, has received the green light from the Scottish Government for its pioneering project to construct an underground pumped storage hydro plant at the existing Cruachan facility in Argyll. This marks a significant step in Scotland’s pursuit of achieving net zero emissions, as the implementation of long-duration storage plants becomes essential in facilitating the integration of more wind and solar power into the energy landscape over the next decade.

The newly planned 600 MW plant at Cruachan is a key component of Drax’s broader £7 billion strategic investment plan in clean energy technologies, scheduled between 2024 and 2030. This forward-looking initiative includes long-duration storage and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), addressing climate change concerns and bolstering national energy security. Located adjacent to the existing underground facility, the plant’s construction is expected to more than double the site’s overall generation capacity, exceeding 1 GW.

Growing the UK’s pumped storage hydro capacity is crucial to integrating more wind and solar power onto the energy grid, enhancing the nation’s energy security while tackling climate change. Pumped storage plants act like giant water batteries by using reversible turbines to pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir which stores excess power from sources such as wind farms when supply outstrips demand. These same turbines are then reversed to bring the stored water back through the plant to generate power when the country needs it.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said: “This is a major milestone in Drax’s plans to build Britain’s first new pumped storage hydro plant in a generation. These plants play a critical role in stabilising the electricity system, helping to balance supply and demand through storing excess power from the national grid. When Scotland’s wind turbines are generating more power than we need, Cruachan steps in to store the renewable electricity so it doesn’t go to waste. With the right support from the UK Government, Drax will invest c.£500m to more than double Cruachan’s generating capacity and support almost 1,000 jobs across the supply chain during construction.”

The expansion of Cruachan requires an updated financial stabilisation mechanism from the UK Government. The current absence of a framework for large-scale, long-duration storage technologies has resulted in no new plants being constructed in the UK since 1984, despite their critical role in the decarbonisation process.

First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, said: “I’m delighted to visit Cruachan today to hear more about the plans to grow Scotland’s pumped storage hydro capacity through the expansion of the existing facility in Argyll. Hydropower has real potential to play a greater role in our transition to net zero and to help ensure a resilient and secure electricity supply across the UK. The expansion of Cruachan will help to strengthen our energy security by providing much-needed resilience in the system, supporting hundreds of jobs, and providing a real boost to the Scottish economy.”

Humza further added: “However, we know that there remain a number of challenges in developing new hydropower projects in Scotland. The Scottish Government will continue to urge the UK government to provide an appropriate market mechanism for hydropower and other long-duration energy storage technologies, to ensure that the potential for hydropower is fully realised.”

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