Small-scale hydroelectric, alternately known as micro-hydro, development can go a long ways to “regenerate” deprived rural areas, bringing in significant economic benefits, according to a new report from Cardiff Business School.
The researchers involved in the new work estimate that, for every 1 megawatt (MW) of new community-owned small-scale hydroelectric capacity installed, there is the equivalent of 10 new full-time jobs created within the first year of operation. This figure stands in stark contrast to other electricity generation technologies — which don’t see numbers like that. The closest electricity generation modality in that regard is community-owned solar photovoltaics (PV), which generate on average 3.3 full-time jobs per 1 MW of capacity installed.
The research found that these economic/job creation benefits arrive mostly from two sources — one, the fact that micro-hydroelectric is an embedded technology relying on local know-how and materials (rather than one relying on large amounts of imported expertise, as with larger projects); and two, the accompanying payments for kilowatt-hours (kWh) generated via the government’s feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme, which is an overall stimulus.
The Guardian provides more:
Two barriers, however, stand in the path of the sector’s growth. The first are the technical difficulties of upgrading existing power transmission lines in rural areas. Originally designed for a centralized model of electricity generation, these lines were installed without thinking they would need to cope with large volumes generated locally.
Upgrades can be phenomenally expensive: one 18 kW scheme was presented with an estimate from grid operators of £5.7 million to upgrade its transmission lines. Ofgem’s current rules insist that private operators pay for upgrades — a sensible arrangement in the case of commercial generation, but one that hits small-scale generation hard.
The second barrier is recent changes to the FIT payment regime. Payments are now declining rapidly, with the justification that as technologies mature they should become less dependent on subsidies. This process of “degression” is geared towards meeting the presumed needs of technologies such as large-scale solar photovoltaic. The needs of micro-hydro are quite different. As a result, NEF research suggests that a reduction in prices paid under FIT last October, from 21.9p to 19.2p per kWh, resulted in a drop of about 24% in the number of schemes applying for planning permission.
The opportunity is obviously there though to slow the rate of decline in governmental support, and thereby give the sector time to build a solid foundation — and possibly a long-term future as well. This is something that would perhaps be worth considering, given the many positives accompanying such development.