The potential for the refurbishment of historic hydropower generation for the benefit of local communities in the Highlands & Islands region

  • Alasdair John Bachell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


Research on the potential for the reuse of historic hydropower sites, such as mills and weirs, for the generation of hydropower in Scotland is limited, with only two previous studies. No definitive study has been made of historic hydropower sites in the Highlands and Islands, though the potential for further power generation from hydropower is mentioned in government commissioned reports. Research in other areas of Scotland and in Europe has demonstrated an extensive number of historic sites which may be suitable for reuse. This study aims to determine what potential exists for re-use of mill sites as hydropower generators in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland, and how they may be used to benefit local communities.
A novel methodology for surveying and analysing potential mill sites was developed using a range of tools and criteria identified through a review of Scottish hydropower guidance and best practice, and previous desktop surveys. The method criteria were verified in consultation with industry experts in hydropower generation, environmental protection, and heritage. 588 mill sites in the Highlands and Islands were identified using the Canmore service and Scottish listed buildings register. Further analysis using satellite imagery, current and historical mapping, and Google Streetview revealed that 27 of these sites may have some potential for re-use as hydropower generators. Targeted field visits to six sites validated the survey methodology and gained valuable insights into site conditions and potential approaches to their reuse. The number of visits was limited due to travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, preventing most of the sites from being assessed in person. The methodology developed by this thesis has wider applicability across Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.
The adaptive reuse of these sites may have a wide range of potential benefits to local communities beyond renewable energy production, serving to improve community empowerment. Reuse of buildings will help to reduce the level of vacant and derelict land in Scotland, positively impacting local community health and wellbeing. Reuse projects could provide local jobs and training for traditional construction skills. These sites may potentially make a small but meaningful contribution to Scottish government targets for community and locally owned energy, renewable heat, and the Just Transition to Net Zero.
Date of Award7 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorMartin Francis Price (Supervisor) & Robert Boyd (Supervisor)

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