Hydro-power uses running water from a stream or river to generate electricity. Small or micro-hydro systems in the UK range from sub 20kW systems up to large 100-200kW units. Hydro systems by their nature are often more complex and need a wide range of expertise and resources to be successful. This page will introduce some of the areas to consider in the early stages of developing a hydro project and provide links to modules and external sites to assist with the process.

What are the benefits of hydro systems?

There are a wide range of benefits to choosing a hydro power scheme in your community which include -

  • Hydropower systems generate a substantial amount of power 24/7 unlike other intermittent renewable energy technologies.
  • Hydropower systems are eligible for the feed-in tariff and offer a steady income stream, with possible tax breaks, improving the rate of return to investors.
  • Although expensive, hydropower schemes often provide a solution to properties or business that cannot easily access the grid in remote areas.
  • Hydropower produces low carbon electricity which can be used to reduce your carbon footprint. Excess power can be exported and therefore reduce the carbon intensity of the grid as a whole.

Overview of activities and site selection

There are a number of barriers and things to consider when developing a hydro site, these include -

  • Site selection - hydropower is very site specific and it is important to understand what makes a good site and understand the resource that you are attempting to harness
  • Obtaining permission from landowners - there are often many parties that need to grant permission.
  • Obtaining planning permission in sensitive locations - good hydropower sites are often located in rural locations or sites of specific environmental interest. This can often make development difficult. See the planning module for more information.
  • Obtaining a water abstraction license - as water is often removed and re-entered into a waterway, specific licenses are required.
  • Grid connection - grid connections can often be difficult due to the proximity of rivers and streams to existing infrastructure. More information can be found in the grid connection module.

Access the full Hydropower module.

Further information

Communities can access advice on the environment protection aspects of designing, building and operating a hydropower scheme. Application forms are available for download for the environmental permissions needed from the Environment Agency in England.

This video by Efixx takes a look at the mechanics behind whitby Esks' Archimedes screw. 

The British Hydropower Association and Micro Hydro Association have detailed information on the design and operation of hydropower schemes.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) technologies section contains information on related policy, legislation and example schemes for micro-hydro power in a UK context.


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