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Plans to build a £2-3bn, 2GW pumped hydro energy storage facility (PHES) next to Lock Ness

Glen Earrach Energy (GEE) has announced its plans to build a £2-3bn, 2GW pumped hydro energy storage facility (PHES) at the Balmacaan Estate in Scotland, next to Loch Ness.

GEE was founded by a privately run family business called Balmac Forest and said it was founded “with the singular focus on delivering the UK’s most efficient pumped storage hydro project at Balmacaan Estate, Scotland”.

In 2023, PHES provided 0.2% or 2TWh of the electricity in Great Britain’s electricity transmission system. For comparison, the largest proportion of capacity by type came from gas-powered generators which provided 31.3% or 87TWh.

GEE said: “Pumped storage hydro is proven to be the cheapest form of long-duration electricity storage” and described PHES as “a proven, mature, and reliable technology and has the lowest carbon footprint among long-duration energy storage options.”

GEE’s project

GEE has submitted a scoping request about the project to the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit and is working with Aecom, Alpiq, Frontier Economics and LCP-Delta.

The company said the project would involve £2bn of investment and would create at least 600 jobs onsite over six years “plus many thousands more locally in the supply chain”.

GEE made several claims about the project, including that it would be using “water more efficiently than any existing or proposed pumped storage project in the UK” and that it would be “bigger than any other proposal or existing facility on Loch Ness in terms of size and power generation capacity”, which it listed as 2GW and 30GWh respectively.

The water use efficiency would be made possible by the 480m height difference between the proposed upper and lower reservoirs, which would maximise power generation while minimising its impact on Loch Ness water levels.

The company claimed that the project would “reduce the carbon footprint of the energy grid by 10% and save £2bn in electricity grid running costs.”

GEE director Roderick MacLeod said: “Scotland is a leader in wind power, but the wind doesn’t always blow when we need the energy most.

“That’s when pumped storage hydro comes in. It is like a giant water battery, storing excess wind power when it’s plentiful and releasing it when the wind dies down.

“International experts have identified Glen Earrach Energy’s pumped storage hydro project as the most efficient in the UK, possibly even Europe. It will be needed to help Britain get to net zero.

“We deeply care about the Balmacaan Estate and are committed to engaging with the local community, businesses, and government. We’re actively seeking their views on how to maximise the project’s positive impact on the area”.

“Globally, pumped storage has relied on government support. The UK government’s proposed income floor is a step in the right direction, which Glen Earrach Energy supports.

“We believe the government should prioritise projects proven to be the most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable, rather than those with planning [permission]. That way they should be self-financing and in theory never have to draw on government support”.

Other pumped storage projects in Scotland

In December 2023, Norwegian hydropower electricity producer Statkraft – which describes itself as Europe’s largest renewable power generator – announced it would acquire the Red John Pumped Storage Hydro Scheme from Scottish clean energy development company Intelligent Land Investments Group (ILI).

The Red John scheme has since been renamed to Loch na Cathrach.

ILI took the 450MW then Red John Pumped Storage Hydro project from initial conception to being development ready after was first conceived in 2015. The scheme was granted consent by Scottish Government ministers in June 2021, and which point it was costed at £550M.

Aecom was tasked with providing environmental impact assessment and surveying, consenting and engineering support from the scheme’s feasibility stage to through to ministerial greenlighting.

SSE’s Foyers Power Station also abstracts water from Loch Ness and uses it to drive two 150MW turbines.

According to SSE, Foyers was intended to make use of surplus electricity produced by the Hunterston B nuclear power station in North Ayrshire which began operating in 1976.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Drax is developing a £500M pumped storage hydro-electric scheme Cruachan 2, which will be a new 600MW capacity plant constructed next to Drax’s existing 440MW facility beneath Ben Cruachan in Argyll and Bute. The project received planning consent in July 2023 and Cowi was signed on to advise in September of that year.

The biggest pumped hydro-electric project currently consented is SSE Renewables’ £1.5bn and 1.5GW Coire Glas at Loch Lochy in the Great Glen in the Scottish Highlands, on which Cowi is also working. Last year NCE spoke to Cowi and SSE to find out more about the challenges of the project.

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