AN application described as “the most prevalent storage technology operating globally”, which Scotland is well placed to use to create massive carbon savings, needs to be brought on to a level playing field with other solutions.

Academics at the Centre for Energy Policy (CEP) at Strathclyde University have launched a discussion paper on pump storage hydro (PSH), which stores energy as water.

The National revealed last month that the technology, not unlike a “huge, infinite battery”, could help Scotland achieve its climate ambitions. Several projects are being developed in Scotland, at Loch Ness, Loch Tay and Loch Awe, but PSH advocates believe that government policy design support – not subsidy – is necessary to put it on a par with other solutions to the intermittency challenge from renewables.

PSH works by using upper and lower reservoirs. During the day, water drops through tunnels to the lower level, driving hydro turbines to generate electricity. Overnight, cheap electricity is used to pump the water back to the higher level.

It is said to offer “the long-term availability to store energy in times of high supply and to release it in times of high demand”.

While reliance on renewable energy continues to grow, the need for storage to ensure security of supply is becoming increasingly urgent.

The CEP paper noted that the technology has been around for more than a century and “is considered the most mature form of electricity storage”, which benefits from “its economies of scale and large-scale generation capabilities”.

PSH also accounts for 98% of energy storage capacity deployed around the world.

The Strathclyde paper said that to develop projects at the scale required the UK Government had to produce “policy security” to attract the required investment. It added that the future electricity market framework should be designed to attract the large, up-front capital investment that is needed for large-scale electricity storage, allowing a level playing field with other competing technologies.

Effective competition between all types of storage, it is claimed, will deliver the greatest value to consumers.

Professor Karen Turner, CEP director, said: “Our work focused particularly on pump storage hydro as a mature technology, but our conclusions are relevant across the wider portfolio of potential Electrical Energy Storage (EES) options.

“We draw three main conclusions from our research. First, that there is a need to account for and articulate the value of EES. Second, a market framework that recognises this value is needed.

“Third, development through both of these stages requires greater policy certainty and clarity round low carbon economic development pathways in general, and the outcomes that may be served by EES in particular.”

There are currently 4GW of new PSH facilities in the pipeline in the UK. But a report from the Institution of Engineers in Scotland (IESIS) last week claimed that a massive gap in the electricity system caused by the closure of coal-fired power stations and growth of unpredictable renewable generation had created the real prospect of complete power failure.

It said this could lead to sustained black-outs and power outages and that longer periods with no power could lead to “deaths, severe societal and industrial disruption, civil disturbance and loss of production”.

The IESIS report also said the loss of carbon heavy power generating stations meant that having to restore electricity in a “black start” situation – following a complete loss of power – would take several days. It is claimed that PSH could ease any black start issues should such a situation arise.

Speaking as the paper was launched at the House of Lords, former UK energy minister, Brian Wilson, said: “As a long-term advocate of hydro-electricity, I welcome this paper which gives PSH a long overdue place in the debate about how to address the critical issue of intermittency.

“This is already extremely urgent due to the pressure to increase generation from renewables.

“There is no one silver bullet but PSH certainly has a significant part to play.

“The fact that Scotland’s terrain can offer excellent sites for these developments, with minimal negative impacts, means that this is a technology which can bring massive economic as well as environmental benefits.”