Engineer's-eye view of hydro scheme proves to be web hit

7/01/16 | Blog

Hydro turbines powered Scotland's early renewables revolution. Now they're the backbone of many community schemes. But how to capture the huge goodwill these projects bring? Senior Policy Manager Joss Blamire takes a look at one project's secret weapon webpage.

Community renewables provide obvious economic and environmental benefits, but their wider effects on an area are less well-known.

Pubs, community centres and cafes become meeting places for groups developing plans for renewables schemes, and their passion for projects quickly spreads. Energy, as always, is a hot topic.

Articles charting the progress of community-owned developments appear regularly in local newspapers, spreading the word about the good things which come from keeping power close to home.

During construction, workers stay at local hotels and guesthouses, eat at sandwich shops and in restaurants and stock up at corner shops.

Politicians flock to cut the ribbon on new developments, raising the profile of communities and helping them open discussions on other issues of concern.
Local schools host visits to active hydro sites and wind turbines, using them as a way of teaching children about everything from engineering and hydrodynamics to climate change and planning.

And as the wind blows, the river flows and the sun shines, perhaps even some sceptics might come to love their local green energy project.

In Balerno, near Edinburgh, Harlaw Community Hydro are making the most of their scheme’s inherent public relations value.

Their 95kW hydro plant opened in September 2015 after a campaign to find shareholders attracted 250 people – and £400,000 of investment.

The local primary school, Dean Park, has shown a particular interest in the project, with members of the community group visiting to talk to pupils and the school's choir invited to perform during the official opening of the project.

And now, with power flowing from the turbine, one page in particular on Harlaw’s website has proven to be a runaway hit.

Browsers have flocked to check out the site’s Power Meter page, which shows how much electricity is being produced by the machine, the depth of the reservoir which powers it, and even a live update on the turbine’s condition.

Harlaw Hydro searched long and hard to find a web developer who could produce the page, and paid extra for the privilege. But the group rightly see the benefit in openness and transparency – and in publicly celebrating their successes.

The data that is provided through the page (and interested parties can email for more detail if they want it) can be used by anyone with an interest in hydro, for whatever reason.

The group are even installing a TV at the Harlaw House Visitor Centre, in the Pentland Hills Regional Park, to showcase the statistics, so visitors to the area can also see how much power the machine is producing.

And that’s the beauty of this community approach, demonstrated so well at Harlaw. A willingness to share in the experience of developing local energy projects – and often a willingness to help others do the same – really does give power to the people.