Managing Britain’s biggest battery in challenging times

John McDonald, Head of Hydro Operations at SSE Renewables, explains the critical role of hydropower to the UK’s energy sector

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For over 70 years, SSE Renewables, and its predecessors, have operated and maintained hydropower stations across Scotland.

With over 60 across the country, they are Britain’s biggest battery – helping to store energy when the wind is high and generating when wind is low.

Just now, as we find ourselves in unprecedented times, these power banks are producing critical renewable electricity to help keep Britain’s lights on.

We are continuing to operate and maintain all our hydro stations safely, and in line with UK and Scottish Government advice, from our oldest site, Foyers Falls, to our newest, Glendoe hydropower station.

But our hydro schemes are as much about managing water as they are producing electricity. We have a duty of care, to ensure that the waters in our schemes are managed appropriately, minimising any impact our work could have on the environment in and around the schemes.

At the moment, whilst many people are working from home, critical members of the hydro team are working safely at our sites, monitoring the weather continuously and preparing our hydro fleet ahead of time to so we can respond to the weather in the most efficient and safest way possible to help meet the energy demands of the nation.

The way we flex our reservoirs helps mitigate the impacts of high rainfall by allowing us to store some of the water and take the peaks off the highest river flow periods. A lot of this work can be done from a control room, but we still need people on the ground day in and day out at these sites to make sure they are operating safely and effectively.

The majority of our hydro sites are in quite rural places, so there is plenty of room to ensure we are more than compliant with UK Government advice on social distancing.

That said, we have still adjusted our operations to have essential segregated teams working across sites, to minimise the number of people with whom employees come into contact, and we have increased COVID specific hygiene measures.

I’d like to thank everyone in our team out working to help manage the waters and keep the lights on for their continued dedication and critical support during this challenging time.

This article was written by John McDonald, Head of Hydro Operations at SSE Renewables.