Innovation in a time of uncertainty

THIS year’s British Hydropower Association conference (10-11 November, Glasgow) takes place against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty for the sector following the government’s publication of its review of the Feed-in Tariff scheme for small-scale renewables, in late August.
The event itself will take place roughly two weeks after the closure of DECC’s consultation on changes to the Feed-In Tariff accreditation, so it will yet to have become clear what DECC is thinking with respect to future support for renewables.

The conference will showcase innovation in the micro hydro arena.
The conference will showcase innovation in the micro hydro arena.

Simon Hamlyn, BHA president, said that if the Government decided not to continue with the FIT scheme, from next year onwards, then it would be a serious obstacle to further growth in the sector. “It would drive a lot of businesses out of the UK to buy foreign turbines to reduce cost,” he said, speaking to Envirotec.
“There will still be a hydro sector that’s developing new schemes, but they will all have been pre-accredited either last year or this year,” he said.
“There are people who are desperately keen to get into hydro”, said Hamlyn, “and they’ve committed themselves to extra amounts of expenditure, but they haven’t researched the market conditions, and they’ll have a surprise when they go to DECC, and they say ‘well, you can’t accredit that scheme because we’re not going to let you’”.
Of course changes to the FIT scheme only have a bearing on the smaller scale hydro schemes. The larger projects, the wave and tidal power schemes, tend to receive support from the Contracts-for-Difference (CfD) scheme. And that kind of funding doesn’t appear to be under threat, but these kinds of opportunities for hydropower are limited to only a small number of potential sites in the UK, all of which have been cherry-picked for development already.
But the FIT review isn’t the only financial threat on the horizon for hydropower developers. “In Scotland you’ve got the threat of subsistence charges to hydro schemes that have not paid [ these ] charges before,” he said. There is also the threat of a review of business rates for hydro, which could see some schemes pay far more than currently, as a result of extraction licence charges and a potential reform of the extraction regime.
“So there is a significant income gap between what was declared in 2010 and what’s going to be declared at the end of 2017”.
Even with such a considerable shadow hanging over the industry, and with such uncertainty over whether or not it will even continue to exist beyond the next few years, Hamlyn seemed upbeat about November’s conference, always a well-attended event, which has seen successive increases in participation in recent years.
Highlights of this year’s programme include presentations on reef systems, new plant concepts for low head hydropower applications, energy recovery from water supply and water treatment, new technologies for impulse turbines, methods of increasing power output and recent micro-hydro developments in Scotland.