Micro hydropower development in the UK has been boosted by the recent publication of a Department of Energy and Climate Change report. Released in June 2011, the UK government’s strategy on micro generation received a warm welcome from the British Hydropower Association (BHA). As far as hydropower development is concerned, BHA stated, the strategy is timely and finally acknowledges that micro hydro is substantially different from other technologies such as wind and solar.

“Micro hydro has been around for millennia,” BHA chief executive David Williams said, “with the most common form being the watermill – the rural and industrial powerhouse of the world prior to fossil fuel power and grid systems. Mills are now electricity generators exporting power to the grid. Mill owners, landowners, farmers and communities can now develop clean and efficient projects and the government’s feed-in tariff is the ideal incentive to do this.”

However, schemes up to 50kW in size were finding that they were being excluded from such incentives. They were required to qualify under the Micro generation Certification Scheme (MCS) which is an internationally recognised accreditation system designed for all renewable energy technologies. An industry-led, government endorsed scheme it certifies low and zero carbon micro generation products and the installation companies who fit them. Certification under MCS entails assessing supply, design, installation and commissioning of technologies.

Furthermore MCS is linked to many of the key factors which are driving demand. For example these include feed-in tariffs. For technologies where there is an MCS standard, both the technology and installer must be MCS certified to be eligible.

“Unfortunately MCS just was not appropriate for hydro developments, which are already rigorously regulated under environmental and planning consenting requirements,” Williams explained. “The assumption that a householder could just visit his local supermarket and buy a water turbine generating unit and then get it installed and therefore had to be protected from rogue manufacturers and installers, is not appropriate. This was causing potential developers extra angst and uncertain costs from a system that was supposed to remove these barriers. As a result, projects were shelved.”

As stated in the government micro generation strategy: “Responses to the consultation also suggested that MCS is restricting micro hydro development in the UK. MCS does play an important role in the feed-in tariff accreditation process in helping to simplify it. However, there is a case to treat micro hydro differently due to the special and complex nature of micro hydro development. We are therefore proposing to withdraw the exclusive link between micro hydro and the MCS for the purpose of the feed-in tariff eligibility. We will consider how this can be taken forward as part of comprehensive review of the feed-in tariff.”

BHA expressed its great relief that the new government strategy intends to withdraw the exclusive link between micro-hydro and MCS. The association also hopes to be closely involved with review process to enable stagnant hydro projects to be developed.

The Micro Generation Strategy focuses on non-financial barriers to micro generation which can compromise the effectiveness of financial incentives which have been put in place for power development. The government has described the strategy as making localised energy a real possibility for households and communities across the UK.

“I want to see a revolution in energy generation at a local level, giving genuine power to the people,” said Greg Barker Energy and Climate Change Minister. “We want to help people who are enthusiastic to generate their own energy matched by an industry with the desire, creativity and tenacity to grow in a sustainable and responsible way. That’s why we have worked with industry to develop a clear way forward which includes cutting the red tape for micro hydro projects and helping this industry to prosper.”

Hydro mentions

Other mentions of hydro in the recent report include encouragement to share international engineering solutions which may be conducive to hydro development. “Micro hydro continues to make progress,” the report says. “Many of the applications are unique but some of the subsystems are repeatable. As Britain acquires knowledge in this and other technology areas, there may be scope to share this information with partners overseas to the benefit of the UK economy. A specific area for development is to increase the pool of competent engineers. In order to do that, further work is required on developing a competency framework for the micro hydro industry based on agreed industry standards.”

Acknowledgement was also given to the current updating of the Environment Agency’s Hydro Good Practice Guidelines. DECC stated that the government is keen to encourage the development of sustainable hydro schemes but ‘there have been a number of complaints about the impact of micro hydro schemes (systems up to 50kW) on the local environment, and fish in particular’.

The report went on to add that the Environment Agency (EA) carefully considers all aspects of environmental protection before granting a licence, and is currently updating the guidelines to ensure good practice. This is being carried out in consultation with hydro developers, the fishing community and other stakeholders.

Although the EA only published a copy of the guidelines in August 2009, these are now under review to reflect operational experience from permitting of hydropower applications which have increased significantly since publication of the first edition of the guidelines. The guidance will also be extended to cover both high and low head hydropower schemes. After taking account of the consultation responses, the revised guidelines are expected to be published in December 2011.