Cruachan Power Station set for £1M upgrade

Drax Group operate the Cruachan Power Station.

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Drax Group’s iconic Cruachan Power Station, a hydroelectric pumped storage plant built inside the Hollow Mountain, is to undergo a £1million upgrade to modernise its turbine control system.

The upgrade will see the station’s current programmable logic controller (PLC) computer system replaced with a new design to put the station at the cutting edge of energy technology to improve Cruachan’s efficiency. World-leading control system builders ITI will undertake the design, installation and commissioning of the upgrade across the station’s four units.

Cruachan plays a critical role in stabilising the country’s electricity system throughout the Covid-19 pandemic due to its flexibility. 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 which was called upon when the low electricity demand during the lockdown coincided with periods of high wind power in Scotland.

The plant’s reversible turbines pump water from Loch Awe to an upper reservoir on the mountainside to store excess power from the grid. The stored water is then released back through the turbines to generate power quickly and reliably when demand increases. In July, Cruachan became the first power station in Britain to provide critical system support services to the National Grid as part of a world-first stability contract aimed at reducing the threat of blackouts.

Ian Kinnaird, Drax Group’s Head of Hydro, said: ‘Cruachan plays a critical role in supporting renewable energy in Scotland and stabilising the electricity grid.

‘As the country continues to decarbonise, the station’s flexibility has never been more important. This upgrade will ensure the Hollow Mountain can deliver the fast, flexible power that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses rely on for many decades to come.’

ITI has a long history with Cruachan and the other hydro assets which Drax owns and operates in Scotland. ITI is the new name for Servelec Controls, the systems integration experts who installed the current PLC control systems in 1987 and built the control system which allows the Lanark and Galloway Hydro Schemes to be remotely managed when needed from Cruachan’s underground cavern from a single interface.

Bryn Thomas, Sales Director for Power and Infrastructure at ITI said: ‘We’ve been working at Cruachan Power Station for over 30 years now, and in that time have developed a deep understanding of their assets, their systems and their operational requirements.

‘It is these strong relationships with our customers that enable us to work with them on developing transformative solutions that enhance their operations, improve safety and support sustainable green energy production.’