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This blog was written by Drax Group CEO, Will Gardiner. Drax are an Associate Partner for the SCDI Annual Lecture 2021.

Drax is at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis having already transformed the UK’s biggest coal fired power station to become Europe’s largest decarbonisation project by using sustainable biomass.

Now we want to go even further to become carbon negative by 2030 by pioneering bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology – a negative emissions technology which permanently removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than is produced, creating a negative carbon footprint.

Scotland is already leading the world in the transition to renewable energy, but to meet its ambitious climate goals it must do even more. That’s why Drax is progressing plans to expand its iconic ‘Hollow Mountain’ Cruachan Power Station, a pumped-hydro storage plant in Argyll.

Cruachan provides 30% of the UK’s pumped storage capacity by volume and its mountain-side reservoir can power a city for over 15 hours. Its flexibility plays a critical role in stabilising the country’s electricity system – never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic. The plant can generate power in less than a minute when needed and can also store excess electricity from the grid like a giant battery, a service called upon when the low electricity demand during lockdowns coincided with periods of high wind power in Scotland.

The Hollow Mountain has untapped potential within its granite core to provide even more support to the electricity system and enable further decarbonisation. A second power station – Cruachan 2 – could be housed within the mountain, increasing its capacity.

Supporting pumped-hydro storage projects is critical to meeting Scotland’s climate goals as well as supporting jobs and clean growth. With an appropriate investment framework from the UK Government projects like Cruachan 2 will be transformational, expanding capacity to support more wind power and creating skilled jobs in rural areas of Scotland.

Since acquiring Cruachan in 2019, and the run of river hydro schemes in Galloway and Lanark, Drax has announced a series of multi-million-pound investments. These include modernising the Hollow Mountain’s turbine control system and completely refurbishing Lanark’s grade A listed Stonebyres power station. This work safeguards Scotland’s hydro heritage and enables these sites to generate flexible power for many years to come.

Hydro power has a major role to play in Scotland’s journey to net zero. It is already providing renewable power for homes and businesses, and if we increase its capacity we can provide even more flexibility and vital system support services to keep the energy grid stable as it continues to decarbonise.