Former Australian PM visits Drax’s iconic ‘Hollow Mountain’ Power Station during COP26 to see major expansion plan

Former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, visited Drax Group’s iconic ‘Hollow Mountain’ Cruachan Power Station to see the critical role it plays in unlocking Scotland’s renewable power potential and the energy company’s plans for a major expansion.

  • Expansion of Cruachan pumped storage hydro power station will support more renewables and enable deeper decarbonisation of the UK energy system
  • Enough wind power to supply a million UK homes went unused in the UK in 2020 because there isn’t enough storage available to prevent it going to waste
  • Former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull is an international proponent for pumped storage hydro having been at the forefront of the drive to build the biggest pumped hydro scheme in the southern hemisphere when he was in office.

Cruachan is an underground pumped hydro storage power station built inside a hollowed-out cavern 1km inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain.

Its reversible turbines enable the plant to act like a giant water battery by pumping 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.

This process helps stop wind farms being paid to turn off when they are generating excess power, helping Scotland to be greener whilst cutting household energy bills.

Earlier this year Drax published exciting plans to build a new underground pumped storage hydro power station at Cruachan – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at the site.

Mr Turnbull is a board member of the International Hydropower Association and Co-Chair of the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower. During his time in office he announced the construction of Snowy Hydro 2.0, the biggest pumped hydro scheme in the southern hemisphere.

While visiting Cruachan, Mr Turnbull said:

“Within the climate crisis the world is facing an ignored crisis – how to ensure that we do not fall back on fossil fuels when the wind isn’t blowing, and the sun isn’t shining. We need green energy security solutions. I commissioned the Snowy 2.0 Pumped Storage Hydro plant to prevent blackouts in Australia – the biggest such project in the southern hemisphere.

“It was fascinating to visit Drax’s Cruachan Power Station in Scotland. It reminds me that this is a tried and tested technology. With Drax’s expansion plans for the project it can also be modern and, with the right market focus on energy security and balance, affordable. The 5GW of such projects in the pipeline in Scotland are central to deliver a net zero energy system in the UK.”

Ian Kinnaird, Drax’s Scottish Assets Director, said:

“We were very happy to welcome Mr Turnbull to Cruachan so he can see how this iconic power station is playing a critical role in balancing Britain’s power system and enabling more renewables to come online.

“Our exciting plans to more than double the generating capacity of Cruachan underlines Drax’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and supporting the energy system as it continues to decarbonise. Expanding Cruachan will unlock more renewable electricity to power homes and businesses across the country, and support hundreds of new jobs in rural Scotland.”

Eddie Rich, CEO of the International Hydropower Association added:

“No national electricity grid has been able to decarbonise without a significant element of hydropower. Projects like Cruachan demonstrate how easy it is to back-up our wind energy resources in the UK with other renewables. Gas is not the only storage option. As they say ‘water, wind and sun get the job done’. I hope to see other pumped storage come online in Scotland in the next decade.”

The expanded power station could be up and running as soon as 2030, subject to a successful planning application, with the project supporting around 900 jobs during construction.

The project will also require an updated policy and market support mechanism from the UK Government.

The existing lack of a framework for large-scale, long-duration storage means that private investment cannot currently be secured in new pumped storage hydro projects, with no new plants built anywhere in the UK since 1984 despite their critical role in decarbonisation.


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Editor’s Notes

  • With Section 36 consent from the Scottish Government, and an updated revenue stabilisation mechanism from the UK Government, work to build the new pumped storage hydro power station could get underway in 2024, with it becoming operational, supplying flexible power to the grid, in 2030.
  • No investment decision has yet been taken and development remains subject to the right regulatory framework with the UK government.
  • A recent report by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) highlighted the policy barriers to deploying long-duration energy storage and suggested ways to address these barriers such as through the introduction of an income floor.
  • Analysis by pumped storage hydro experts Stantec for Drax shows 876 jobs will be supported directly and indirectly during construction.
  • Built on the shores of Loch Awe in Argyll in the 1960s, Cruachan was the first reversible pumped storage hydro system of its scale to be built in the world.
  • The upper reservoir on the mountainside can store 11.1 million cubic metres (2.4bn gallons) – that’s enough to fill 4,440 Olympic swimming pools.
  • Independent analysis by Lane, Clark and Peacock (LCP) found the UK curtailed 3.6TWh of wind power last year, enough renewable electricity to supply around a million homes.
  • A separate independent report by academics from Imperial College London recently found that just 4.5 GW of new pumped storage hydro could save up to £690m per year in energy system costs by 2050.

About Drax

Drax Group’s purpose is to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future and in 2019 announced a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology.

Its 3,400 employees operate across three principal areas of activity – electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production and supply to third parties.

Power generation:

Drax owns and operates a portfolio of renewable electricity generation assets in England and Scotland. The assets include the UK’s largest power station, based at Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies five percent of the country’s electricity needs.

Having converted Drax Power Station to use sustainable biomass instead of coal it has become the UK’s biggest renewable power generator and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe. It is also where Drax is piloting the groundbreaking negative emissions technology BECCS within its CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage) Incubation Area.

Its pumped storage, hydro and energy from waste assets in Scotland include Cruachan Power Station – a flexible pumped storage facility within the hollowed-out mountain Ben Cruachan.

Pellet production and supply:

Drax owns and has interests in 17 pellet mills in the US South and Western Canada which have the capacity to manufacture 4.9 million tonnes of compressed wood pellets (biomass) a year. The pellets are produced using materials sourced from sustainably managed working forests and are supplied to third party customers in Europe and Asia for the generation of renewable power.

Drax’s pellet mills supply around 30% of the biomass used at its own power station in North Yorkshire, England to generate flexible, renewable power for the UK’s homes and businesses.


Through its two B2B energy supply brands, Haven Power and Opus Energy, Drax supplies energy to 250,000 businesses across Britain.

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