Harnessing power for a new generation from Yorkshire's rivers

The swift-flowing Yorkshire rivers and streams could help to keep our lights burning for generations.

Barn Energys hydro plant at Thrybergh Weir on the River Don.
Barn Energys hydro plant at Thrybergh Weir on the River Don.

Perhaps we should place more faith in the wisdom of our ancestors, who knew how to master the power of water. The Greeks used water-wheels to grind wheat into flour more than 2,000 years ago, and today hydropower can provide at least a partial solution to our energy problems.

Many “green” entrepreneurs can find inspiration from the work of Barn Energy. The company was established by three renewable energy entrepreneurs who believe that hydroelectric development can help to ensure that at least 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity will be generated from non-carbon sources by 2020.

The team behind Barn Energy includes CEO Mark Simon, an experienced entrepreneur who is now dedicated to establishing environmentally responsible, renewable energy generation in the UK.

Work to construct a £6.5m hydropower station at Brotherton Weir, on the River Aire near Knottingley

After years of painfully slow progress, the data indicate that we are taking strides towards a sustainable future.

Research suggests that the UK enjoyed a green Christmas last year, with more than two-fifths of electricity coming from renewables.

Over the day, wind, solar, hydropower and biomass provided 41 per cent of the UK’s electricity, up from 25 per cent for Christmas 2015, according to data from Electric Insights, published by Imperial College London.

Hydroelectric schemes have significant advantages over other means of energy generation, because they will run more or less continuously.

Work to construct a £6.5m hydropower station at Brotherton Weir, on the River Aire near Knottingley

Barn Energy works closely with its partner companies, Yorkshire Hydropower Ltd and Northern Hydropower Ltd, which own and operate hydropower stations. The company is already helping Britain to become greener by establishing hydro schemes.

One Yorkshire hydroelectric power plant is providing electricity for hundreds of homes and paving the way for the return of salmon stocks for the first time in a century.

Barn Energy is behind the plant near Rotherham, which, at the time, was the biggest of its type ever built in Yorkshire.

As part of the scheme, a fish-pass has been built which should allow salmon to return to Sheffield to spawn for the first time since the First World War.

The £2.1m plant, developed by Barn Energy and Yorkshire Hydropower, is based at Thrybergh Weir on the River Don, near the village of Kilnhurst close to Rotherham, and provides power for 300 homes.

The project is said to be the largest plant commissioned in the UK in the last three years. The scheme was completed on time, on budget and with 80 per cent of the contracts placed with British companies.

Mark Simon, chief executive of Barn Energy, said: “In making this special project happen, we have worked tirelessly with the Canal and River Trust, the Environment Agency and local interests to ensure that hydropower enriches and repairs the local environment of the River Don, as well as reduce our burning of fossil fuels.

“This project can justifiably be regarded as an exemplar for renewable energy in this country,’’ he added.

“It offers baseload electricity, delivering clean energy highly efficiently, into the local grid. It is a very long-term source of clean electricity – there’s no reason why Thrybergh won’t be running into the next century. This is truly a Northern Powerhouse.”

As part of the project, a fish and eel passage has been built to enable salmon and trout to swim upstream in the direction of Sheffield.

It is hoped salmon will eventually return to Sheffield to spawn, something which has not been seen for more than a century because of weirs blocking their path and pollution.

David Rowley, chairman of the Don Catchment Rivers Trust, a local group dedicated to protecting the area’s rivers, said the fish pass was “part of the jigsaw” which he hoped would see salmon return by 2017 or 2018.

In 2015, the group was given £1.2m by the Heritage Lottery to provide a boost for its project to help fish move up the River Don by creating fish passages on the weirs.

Barn Energy has followed this by creating the biggest hydropower station in Yorkshire, which has already started to generate electricity. Barn Energy has also developed and built the £5.3m scheme, which is also expected to be operational for 100 years, at Kirkthorpe along the Aire and Calder Navigation.

Work to construct a £6.5m hydropower station at Brotherton Weir, on the River Aire near Knottingley, is also underway. Contractor Eric Wright began work on the Knottingley site last year, which is scheduled for delivery in August 2017.

Mr Simon told Yorkshire Vision: “The great rivers of Yorkshire flow very steadily all the time and hydro-electric power stations will last for at least a century.

“Sadly, the Government has closed down the incentive schemes for renewable energy generation and our Knottingley hydropower on the River Aire will be the last significant scheme in England.

“Just as the Government is spending on infrastructure projects, like HS2, and is still talking about the importance of the Northern Powerhouse, I believe it should make low-cost funds available for long-term infrastructure schemes like river hydropower.

“Our schemes are repowering Yorkshire’s great rivers, and making them come alive, so salmon, trout and eel can travel upstream – that’s a really important and a unique benefit of these schemes.

“We are installing York stone plaques on each site, with the names of the men and women who built these renewable, sustainable hydropower landmarks.”

In response to Mr Simon’s comments, a Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “Last year a record £13bn was invested in renewables across the UK, but the purpose of Government subsidies is to kickstart new clean energy technologies, not to support them indefinitely.

“Costs of developing hydroelectric power have come down, so it’s right 
that we should scale back support in order to protect household energy bills.”