THE UK Government is being urged to speed up plans to encourage investment in renewable energy projects, with fears net -zero goals will be put at risk due to delays in policy making.

Major hydropower projects are in the pipeline, such as proposals that would enable lochs in the Highlands to be used as giant storage batteries and allow clean energy to be supplied to the grid at times of higher consumption.

This includes the first large-scale pumped hydro storage scheme to be developed in the UK for more than 30 years at Coire Glas, which would more than double Britain’s existing electricity storage capacity.

Alex Campbell, head of research & policy at the International Hydropower Association (IHA), said the UK currently has around four gigawatts of energy storage, of which around three gigawatts comes from pumped storage hydropower, mostly in Wales.

This has the potential to expand in the coming years, with an additional 2.4 gigawatts given planning consent and 2.8 gigawatts awaiting consent, almost all of which would come from Scotland, he explained.

But he added: “Without a policy framework to incentivise the market, however, it is very unlikely that any of this new additional capacity will be constructed.

“Multiple projects are at a critical financing stage and are awaiting new government policy, due in 2024. However, as planning approvals and construction of new projects can take up to eight to ten years, certainty on government policy is needed now.”

Campbell said the UK Government had recently completed a call for evidence on how to enable investment in large-scale long-duration energy storage (LLES), with new policy due in 2024.

But he added: “Due to the time it takes to obtain planning approval and construct new pumped storage hydropower projects, this puts the ability to achieve the UK’s 2030 net zero goals at risk.

“It means that the UK will be forced to continue to rely on fossil fuels such as coal and gas in the meantime, to support the integration of more wind and solar on the energy grid.”

Scottish net zero and energy secretary Michael Matheson has also called for more action from the UK Government.

He said: “Scotland has the people, the ambition and the natural resources to greatly increase our renewables generation and deliver on our net zero targets – for the benefit of communities up and down the country and beyond.

“Hydro power has an important role to play in our energy transition, offering flexibility and resilience to our energy mix, and we are fully supportive of plans to expand the sector.

“We have, consistently and for a number of years, called on the UK Government to bring forward a market mechanism to support the further development of hydro power as a matter of urgency.

“We have also been clear that this must be part of a clear focus on developing flexible and renewable technologies rather than new nuclear fission plants, which are expensive and take decades to deliver.”

A spokesman for SSE Renewables, which is planning the Coire Glas project, said a decision on initial exploratory works is expected to be taken over the next 12 months to confirm the site conditions and provide the evidence for a final investment decision in 2024.

He said the UK Government was currently assessing a variation of a finance model known as “cap and floor” for LLES projects, including pumped storage.

“We’re seeking direction and a decision from the UK government as soon as possible to support projects such as Coire Glas,” he added.

The UK Government did not respond to request for comment.