10 Years of Servicing Scotland’s Small Hydro Fleet

16th April 2021

In early 2011, it was clear that the Feed in Tariff was achieving exactly what it was designed to do for the UK small hydro sector, the number of schemes on enquiry and under contract for construction was starting to increase significantly as momentum and interest gained in small hydro.

In an effort to provide greater operational support and breakdown response cover to our existing and future customers, Gilkes made the decision to open our first Hydro Service Centre in Fort William, aiming to reduce engineer travel time, improve response and to be local for emergency breakdown support.

Fort William being the industrial centre of the West Highlands was well placed to access the local engineering support services (fabricators/industrial supplies) that are available, while having good access to industrial premises.  At the end of February 2011 Gilkes took the keys to the first service centre on the Ben Nevis Industrial Estate employing local electrical engineers to work out of the office supporting the growing installation base.

Within 18 months of the Fort William service centre opening, there had been over 40 new hydro schemes installed around Scotland and it soon became clear that it was not going to be practical to cover the growing number of schemes from Fort William. The decision was quickly made to expand again and the search for a second Scottish Service Centre started.

At this time, John Duncanson of John Ducanson Engineering Ltd was looking to slow down and move to retirement. Gilkes took the opportunity to purchase his business and integrate his engineering staff and customer base into the Gilkes fold. As John was Evanton based the logical step was to look for premises in the area both to maintain support for John’s customer base and the new schemes that were rapidly appearing all over the Highlands at the time. In October 2012, we opened the second Gilkes Service Centre on the Clayton Court Industrial Estate in Invergordon giving Gilkes both a West coast and East Coast Highland presence.  Increased coverage and a growing engineering team, allowed us to react to our customers’ needs with much faster call out times.  Reducing unplanned downtime is a priority for any hydro operator whether a private landowner or large utilities and Gilkes growing presence provided specialist service and maintenance teams to minimise lost generation revenue.

After seven years of continued development of new hydro installations around Scotland, the search began for a 3rd service centre location.. This time Callander being the gateway to the Trossachs and on the Highland fault line was the perfect place to locate. The plan being that between Fort William, Invergordon, Callander and Kendal we would not be more than a 2.5hour drive from nearly all the Scottish hydro schemes. In January 2019 we opened the Callander Hydro Service Centre on the Geisher Road Industrial Estate, Callander.

As we celebrate 10 years of providing local service to our customers in Scotland we are also sadly seeing the last of the new Feed In Tariff schemes  completeing construction. Since the opening of the Fort William Service Centre over 200 new Gilkes turbines have been supplied and installed in Scotland alone, with a Gilkes total installed capacity of over 126.7MW achieved in ten years. Small hydro schemes on there own maybe relatively small output, however as a combined contribution to the countries future renewable energy mix they can play a significant and important role. Through our Scottish Service Centres we look forward to providing the preventative maintenance and spares to this new fleet hydro for many years to come.

Author: Alastair Steele, Field Operations Manager, Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon Ltd