Where Are Hydroelectric Power Stations Located In Uk?

Hydroelectric power stations convert the energy from flowing water into electricity. The flowing water turns a turbine which then spins a generator to produce electricity. According to Wikipedia, hydroelectric power provides around 1.9 GW of electrical capacity in the UK, accounting for about 2.2% of total generation capacity as of 2018. There are over 100 operating hydroelectric plants in the UK, mostly located in Scotland, Wales and northern England where mountainous terrain and ample rainfall provide optimal conditions. Though a relatively small contributor to the overall UK energy mix compared to fossil fuels and nuclear, hydroelectric power offers a renewable and low-carbon source of electricity.


The first known use of hydroelectric power in the United Kingdom was in 1878 at Cragside House in Northumberland, England. This was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power. A hydroelectric dynamo was used to power a single light bulb in the home of Lord Armstrong (source).

In 1882, the first hydroelectric power station was opened in Godalming, Surrey. It was built to provide public electricity and used water turbines designed by Lester Pelton. Over the next few decades, dozens of small hydroelectric plants were constructed around mills in the UK (source).

Major hydroelectric projects began in the early 20th century, often constructed to provide power to nearby cities and industries. Notable early projects include the Clyde hydro-electric schemes starting in 1909 and the First Dinorwig Power Station in North Wales which opened in 1907.

Hydroelectric power expanded greatly in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s. Major schemes were built in Scotland, Northern England, and Wales. By 1965, hydroelectricity accounted for around 25% of the UK’s electricity generating capacity (source).

Northern Scotland

Northern Scotland is home to some of the country’s largest hydroelectric schemes, thanks to the mountainous highlands and abundant water resources from lochs and rivers. Major hydroelectric stations in Northern Scotland include the Cruachan Power Station and Foyers Power Station.

The Cruachan Power Station, located in Argyll, is one of the largest pumped-storage hydroelectric power stations in the UK with a capacity of 440MW. The station operates by using excess electricity to pump water from Loch Awe up to a reservoir on the mountain Ben Cruachan. This water can then be released to generate electricity at times of peak demand (https://ourfuture.energy/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Fairer-Futures-Education-Pack-1.pdf).

Another major hydroelectric facility in the Scottish Highlands is the Foyers Power Station on Loch Ness. With a capacity of 300MW, Foyers takes advantage of the steep and fast-flowing Falls of Foyers to generate renewable electricity. The mountainous terrain makes this an ideal location to capture the power of falling water (https://www.glasgowsciencecentre.org/sites/default/files/FF05%20-%20Energy%20Fact%20Cards%20-%20ScotGov_0.pdf).

Overall, the highlands of Scotland provide excellent topographical conditions for hydroelectric dams, enabling the country to develop an extensive network of hydropower stations and take advantage of local water resources for renewable energy generation.


Wales has emerged as a major center for hydroelectric power in the UK due to its mountainous geography and high annual rainfall. The Snowdonia region in northern Wales has been the focal point for several major hydroelectric projects. This includes the Dinorwig and Ffestiniog power stations, which are located near Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

The Dinorwig power station is the largest hydroelectric pumping station in Wales with an installed capacity of 1,728 megawatts. Built inside Elidir mountain near Llanberis, Dinorwig uses Marchlyn Mawr reservoir and Llyn Peris lake to generate electricity. Dinorwig provides vital peak power generation for the national grid and helps balance supply and demand.

Nearby is the Ffestiniog power station, which utilizes a series of tunnels and pipelines connected to lakes in the mountains above Blaenau Ffestiniog. With 13 hydroelectric generators, Ffestiniog has an installed capacity of 360 megawatts. Along with Dinorwig, it demonstrates how Wales’ mountainous geography is ideal for pumped storage hydroelectricity.

These stations in Snowdonia provide clean renewable energy, attract tourism, and serve as engineering landmarks. The scale of hydroelectric development reflects Wales’ emergence as a center for renewable energy in the UK.

Northern England

Northern England has several large hydroelectric power stations thanks to the hilly topography of the Pennines. The Kielder Water power station located at Kielder Reservoir in Northumberland is one of the largest in England with an installed capacity of 100MW. Its location high in the Pennines allows it to generate electricity using the natural downhill flow of water. Another major hydroelectric plant is located at the Derwent Reservoir in the Peak District National Park, harnessing the power of the Derwent River as it flows through the hills. The geography and rivers of Northern England are thus ideal for hydroelectric power generation.

Southern England

lake district landscape
While northern England and Scotland have the majority of hydroelectric power stations in the UK due to the mountainous terrain, there are still some notable hydroelectric facilities located across southern England. This region tends to have fewer hydroelectric stations compared to the north, but facilities like Romney Weir in Kent and Haverthwaite in Cumbria still generate clean renewable energy through hydropower.

The Romney Weir station operates on the River Rother in Kent and can generate up to 1.8 MW of electricity. Further northwest, the Haverthwaite facility on the River Leven uses the outflow from the Lake District’s Windermere lake to produce 7.2 MW of power. Even on smaller rivers and streams, low-head hydropower schemes are able to contribute to the UK’s renewable energy mix in areas like Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset.

While southern England’s topography and waterways are less suited for massive hydroelectric dams, small-scale projects still provide localized sustainable power across the region. The focus may be on other renewables like solar or wind in the south, but hydropower still has a role to play in England’s clean energy transition.

Pumped Storage

Pumped storage hydroelectric stations store energy in the form of water, pumped from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir. When electricity demand is high, the water in the upper reservoir is released to flow downhill through turbines, generating electricity. During periods of low electricity demand, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir, using excess electricity from the grid. This allows energy to be stored and supplied on demand.

The largest pumped storage station in the UK is Dinorwig in Snowdonia, Wales, with a capacity of 1.7 GW. It can go from zero to maximum output in 16 seconds to help meet peak demand. Other major pumped storage stations include Cruachan in Scotland (440 MW), Ffestiniog in Wales (360 MW), and Foyers in Scotland (300 MW). There are also plans to build a new 1.5 GW pumped storage station called Coire Glas in the Scottish Highlands.

Future Expansion

Although the majority of viable hydropower resources in the UK have already been utilized, there is still some potential for future expansion. According to research from the British Hydropower Association, there is an estimated 146 to 248 MW of additional hydropower capacity that could be developed across England and Wales by 2030 under favorable conditions [1]. However, the UK government will need to implement policies that support further hydropower development for this growth to be realized.

One area with high potential is pumped storage hydropower. A new assessment shows that 217 MW of additional pumped storage capacity could be developed by 2030 [2]. Pumped storage works by pumping water uphill to a reservoir during times of low electricity demand and then releasing it through turbines to generate electricity during peak demand. This provides a way to store and balance renewable energy. Wales, Scotland, and northern England have suitable geography for additional pumped storage stations.

Upgrading existing hydropower sites with more modern, efficient equipment is another opportunity for growth. There is also some potential for micro and small-scale hydropower projects across the UK, although the contribution would be relatively minor. Overall, while the UK’s best hydropower resources have already been utilized, targeted investments and policy support could unlock additional capacity in strategic areas to support the continued growth of renewable energy.

Environmental Impact

Hydroelectric power stations can have significant environmental impacts, particularly on river ecosystems and habitats. The dams built to create reservoirs flood large areas of land, altering natural water flows and often displacing wildlife populations (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/1019502434382282701/). The dramatic changes to water levels and season flow patterns can negatively impact sensitive species like salmon that rely on steady flows for migration and spawning.

Mitigation strategies have been employed to try to minimize the ecosystem damage caused by hydroelectric dams. Fish ladders are often built alongside dams to enable fish to travel upstream to spawn. Reservoir water levels and downstream river flows may be regulated to try to mimic natural seasonal patterns. In some cases, river diversion projects have been implemented, where a portion of the natural flow is diverted around the dam to maintain habitat and migration corridors (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/1019502434382282708/). While helpful, these strategies do not fully compensate for the overall habitat disruption caused by large hydroelectric dams.

When planning new hydroelectric projects, conducting environmental impact assessments and trying to site dams in areas with less ecological sensitivity can help reduce habitat destruction. But there are always tradeoffs between renewable energy production and preservation of natural river ecosystems that must be weighed carefully.


To summarize, the UK has a long history of harnessing the power of moving water to generate electricity, dating back over 100 years. While the best sites for large-scale hydroelectric dams have already been utilized, there remains potential for continued growth through upgrading existing infrastructure, smaller run-of-river schemes, and pumped storage facilities. Moving forward, any expansion plans will need to balance the benefits of renewable hydroelectricity against environmental concerns over habitat loss and disruption of natural waterways. Careful planning and mitigation can help minimize the ecological impact. Overall, hydroelectric power has become an indispensable part of the UK’s diverse energy mix, providing low-carbon electricity alongside nuclear, wind, and other renewables. With the country’s abundant rainfall and complex geography, hydropower is likely to continue generating clean, reliable electricity that supports the grid and displaces fossil fuel dependence.

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