Lancaster University in the north west of England, UK, has embarked on research that could see more of the region’s electricity generated by hydro power.

Thanks to a £290,000 (US$541,673) grant from the Joule Centre – a North West Development Agency-backed organisation which supports academic and industrial research into sustainable energy – Lancaster University is now set to develop a system which will promote the use of hydro power in the North West by examining some of the obstacles standing in the way of hydro systems.

England’s north west currently has 14 hydro power sites, generating 8.2GWh per year, according to regional statistics for 2004. The region has reliable rainfall and many rivers and streams that can potentially be used to generate hydroelectricity.

At a national level, the Department of Trade and Industry states that if small-scale hydroelectric power from all of the streams and rivers in the UK could be tapped it would be possible to produce 10,000GWh/yr – enough to meet over 3% of the country’s total electrical needs, making a significant contribution to the government’s renewables target of 10% by 2010.

However practical problems, such as environmental sensitivity and economic considerations, have meant that hydro power has not been developed to its full potential in many areas of the UK.

Researchers also aim to develop a tactical tool which will help identify potential sites for hydro power developments and provide a means of assessing them for suitability.

The two-and-a-half-year project brings together Lancaster University researchers from a range of disciplines including Engineering, Environmental Science, Geography, Economics and Sociology along with researchers in the University’s Centre for the Study of Environmental Change. Scientists from the Natural Environmental Research Council’s Centre for Hydrology and Ecology – which is based in the University’s Lancaster Environment Centre – will also take part in the research.