Hydropower map shows potential

A map that shows where hydropower could be deployed in England and Wales could help to tap into the unused power potential of British rivers.

The hydropower opportunities and environmental sensitivities map, commissioned by the Environment Agency, found almost 26,000 locations where a hydropower turbine could theoretically generate electricity.

Together, these sites could generate enough electricity to produce three per cent of the country’s 2020 renewable electricity needs. In reality, however, only some of the sites could be exploited due to environmental sensitivities, as well as practical constraints such as access to the electricity network.

The maps help to identify areas where hydropower could make a positive contribution to the local environment and sites where it is less appropriate.

The report found that a sensitively designed hydropower scheme that includes a fish pass could improve the local environment as well as generate electricity in over 4,000 sites. These opportunities are particularly concentrated on rivers such as the Severn, Thames, Aire and Neath.

With government soon to offer subsidies of up to 20p for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced, a medium-sized scheme that typically generates enough electricity for about 32 homes could receive around £25,000 a year. Average set-up costs range from £100,000 to £150,000. But, the Environment Agency stressed, only schemes that were well designed and had no negative impacts on the river wildlife or the local environment would get the go ahead.

Tony Grayling, head of climate change and sustainable development at the Environment Agency, said: ’Some hydropower schemes have the potential to deliver low-carbon electricity and improve the local environment for wildlife, for example by improving fish migration. But there will inevitably be some sites where the risk to the environment outweighs the benefits of power generation.’

The report recommends that fish-friendly design needs to be incorporated in all schemes and that grants for fish passes could help to unlock the potential of small-scale hydropower in England and Wales.

The full report, ’Opportunity and environmental sensitivity mapping in England and Wales’, and the interactive hydropower maps are available to download at the link to the right of the page.